Born in 1997, Marcello Ascani is an eclectic youtuber. As the footsteps of a contemporary odyssey, his vlogs tell of his travels around the world, equipped with a video camera that's always on, a lightweight backpack and lots of empathy. Among artistic skills, declarations of love for China and North America, useful survival tips and some discomforts, let’s discover the story of a wandering and very ironic young man, also able to give us positive advice in the crazy digital world.
As a traveling YouTuber, you go all over the world with your videocamera at hand. Anyhow, let's take a step back: your very first videos were dedicated to speed drawing as a part of the series ‘My Life Is a Cartoon’, in which drawings and animations accompany your narrative voice. Tell us about the time when your lightbulb moment happened in a YouTube channel.
It all started when I unexpectedly decided that I wanted to become a painter. I attended the first year at the scientific high school and, Once I reached the second year, I decided to change schools and enroll in the art high school. It all turned out to be very different and much less inspiring than I was expecting. So, I thought I had to start drawing on YouTube in order to get noticed, the rest is history...
I started with drawings, and then I learned to do animations, realizing that I loved to tell my life and stories in that way. Shortly after, I got interested in other kinds of videos and I learned to document my life with a videocamera.
From animations to vlogs, the step was short. Your travel diary tells about your adventures without filters and in a light-hearted way. Tell us how the purpose of developing your channel in this direction has matured.
Having opened the channel at 15 years old, I couldn’t expect to start with a particular kind of content and stick with it forever. I started with drawings, and then I learned to do animations, realizing that I loved to tell my life and stories in that way. Shortly after, I got interested in other kinds of videos and I learned to document my life with a videocamera. After high school I started traveling frequently and had less and less the possibility of making animations, so I concentrated on my vlogs. Nowadays, I think they’re a more effective tool to tell my life. Unfortunately, some videos would be better if I made them in animation (for example, all the so-called 'long explanation’ videos). I would often love to create new animations, but I never have time to really sit down and draw on my graphics tablet.
Finland, Morocco, Canada, Japan, Indonesia...so on and so forth. These are just some of your trips so far! I guess it can be difficult to make a ranking. That being said, in all honesty, what are the places that have filled your heart the most?
The trips I preferred were those to China, Canada and California (strangely enough, all three of them start with the same letter). I don't think it's about the trips themselves, but about the way in which I traveled: I backpacked alone and for at least a month.
From West to East, during your expeditions around the world, you’ve had the opportunity to taste the local cuisines. Speaking of culinary experiences, what do you think were the tops and flops?
The experience I’m most proud of was the taste of the "balut" (it’s a typical dish in many Asian countries, E.D.), a food that makes so much disgust that it can’t even be described now (I’m joking, it’s a fertilized duck egg). The cuisine that’s surprised me the most is the Chinese one, followed by the Japanese cuisine. While being in New Delhi, I sadly found out that I don't like Indian food very much.
In the video ’10 Things I Learned in 4 Months of Travel’, you pointed out the importance of speaking with the locals. There’s always a language barrier when traveling that makes it very difficult. Did you find that a world of open friendliness in communication is actually out there?
Almost all the countries where I’ve been have amazed me for the friendliness of their citizens and the ease with which you can make friends, the United States and Canada in particular. Several times it happened to chat with strangers, and then exchange contacts and go out together, I’m still in touch with some of them. The best experience I’ve ever had was in China: I had missed the train to Shanghai, in the city where I was everyone was stuck in traffic and I couldn’t call any taxi, the app on my phone didn't work and, after a while, my phone turned off. The first person I asked for help was a middle school student who was going home. When she realized what my problem was, she called her mom and asked her to leave work and drive me to the station. An hour later, I was at the train station with the mother and daughter greeting me (they even bought me a ticket to Shanghai). After that experience, I discovered that every single request for help, in China, is taken very seriously.
Try to associate these emotional states with as many places as possible among the ones you've visited: adrenaline, discomfort, surprise and loneliness.
Adrenaline: maybe, Dubai. I was in a big amusement park and, as I’m not used to it, I had one of the most adrenaline-filled experiences of my life (laughs, E.D.). Discomfort: definitely, India. It isn’t easy to relate to Indians, you’re constantly observed, traffic is impossible and there are no moments of silence or rest from the continuous horns. You also have to bargain for everything and I’m not very good at it. Surprise: Japan surely deserves the first place as to sense of surprise. Not having seen any videos and knowing absolutely nothing about Japan, when I left Ueno subway station (the one that’s connected to the airport) and saw Tokyo for the first time, it was like another planet, a wonderful feeling! Loneliness: When I travel alone, I usually have no problems with the sense of loneliness: even if I’m by myself, I always get to meet and spend time with someone, sometimes it's Italian expatriates and, other times, locals. That doesn’t mean that I don’t spend whole days alone and feel a little bit melancholic when I see beautiful places with no one by my side. It isn't necessarily a bad feeling, but it’s the closest thing to loneliness that I get to feel. My first trip to San Francisco was wonderful, I fell in love with the city, but I saw the most beautiful things on my own and really felt this feeling of melancholy.
All these trips have made you a citizen of the world, but you were born in Rome. What do you miss the most about your city when you're at the other end of the world? And what's the first thing you do once you're back in Rome after long periods of absence?
I often miss the good food… (laughs, E.D.). Sometimes I simply miss the calm and monotony of my Roman life. When I go back home, I usually have pizza and carbonara pasta waiting for me.
Your Youtube channel is ironic and chameleon-like. It has recently embarked on a new path. What are your 'Budget Vlogs’, the ones in which you talk about economics?
Actually, in the budget vlogs I simply try to tell my life, highlighting the financial and professional aspects. I started treating these subjects because I think they’re neglected in Italy and it can be very useful for my peers to see my unfiltered experience.
Your Instagram followers exceed 135,000, while your YouTube channel has more than 350,000 subscribers. What’s your relationship with the people following you?
My followers often get in touch with me as if we had already known each other for a long time, I always try to be kind, both through social media and when they recognize me in real life. Last year Blueberry, a tour operator, proposed me to organize a trip to New York City with my channel members. It was a normal trip, with the only difference that I was there too and all the attendances followed my channel (we had fun like crazy!). This year Blueberry offered me another trip to Korea, I'm looking forward to it!
We live in a society where being overexposed often has a high cost. Have you ever encountered prejudice and criticism over the years?
Once certain numbers are exceeded, it’s statistical that some people will criticize you. I’m lucky enough to have a very mature and smart audience, the majority of the criticisms I receive come from ‘haters’, that don’t write rationally. I always try to be polite and deepen constructive criticism, while I clearly ignore destructive messages (and I save them if they're funny, very often they're so weird that they become hilarious!).
Now, reveal us all your best ‘young explorer’ outfit.
I'm not very good at choosing my outfits, but as a fine minimalist I pretty much always wear the same black or white T-shirts and a pair of long trousers.
Do you have a few basic tips for those who wish to travel alone and just with the company of their backpack.
There are so many, in my opinion the most important one is to remember to talk with local people…immediately following the fundamental advice: pack light!
Considering your very young age and the volcano of ideas you've proven to be, what are your future ambitions?
I’d like to have a team and company producing contents in the next two to three years.
Let’s close the interview with a spoiler. What will your next trip be?
These are the trips I’ve organized so far: Korea, Vietnam, Shanghai and New York City. Maybe, I'll officially become a nomad.