Sawyer Hartman is always in search of a good story. That’s because he’s put pressure on himself to find — and tell the 1.7 million subscribers of his YouTube channel — a new one each day as part of a challenge to post a daily video until his 27th birthday. That’s 391 days.
Marriott TRAVELER caught up with him on one of those days to find out what he loves about traveling, where he’s been recently that really impressed him, and why he’s so obsessed with the app Magic Window—and how it’s influenced the films he makes.
Marriott Rewards also helped out Hartman with his storytelling, recently sending him to Portland to explore the picturesque Oregon city and take in its natural surroundings, in between checking out its rich culinary and craft beer scene. Travel is about creating memories, right? (Watch his adventures above).
“I’m now traveling 25 days a month,” says Hartman, who has created videos with popular YouTubers like Tyler Oakley, Joey Graceffa and Taryn Southern, who he hopped into bed with for “Do Not Disturb,” a series for Moxy Hotels.
When I visit a city, I don't want to sum up the city by the landmarks that everyone knows. Instead, everything is a new discovery.
It’s Important to be Human
What Hartman’s learned from YouTube “is that the only thing that brings people in is being human,” he says. “As soon as you script your content you lose people just because it’s inauthentic. If they wanted that they would stay on TV.”
Go Beyond the Landmarks
“When I visit a city, I don’t want to sum up the city by the landmarks that everyone knows, because really there are only four or five in a city,” Hartman says. “Instead, everything is a new discovery. Something that’s so mundane to someone that’s lived in a city for so long might be so miraculous to someone else.”
Landmarks and big events can be selling points to get people to watch a video, Hartman says. “But it’s not where the life comes from. It’s not what makes a city a city. What makes a city a city is the food, the culture, the sounds, the atmosphere, the people mostly.
“When you’re looking at the Empire State Building you don’t realize you’re hearing the taxis behind you, seeing the people,” he offers up as an example. “It’s all part of the experience. It’s all quite immersive.”
Find the Beauty in Everything
“I always try to figure out new ways to film things,” says Hartman who is as comfortable behind the camera as he is in front of one. In addition to his short films and daily vlogs, he directed “The Parallax Theory,” which was produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. “I always try to find the beauty in everything—whether it’s architecture or the subtle nuances between where I’ve been and the place I was yesterday.”
Walk Straight to the Window
If Hartman has a habit when he travels, the first thing he does when he checks into a hotel room is look out the window. “The views you get from your room, it kind of sets up your stay. No matter where you are, it’s kind of the backdrop to your story when you’re there.”
His Favorite Travel App
“There’s a thing called Magic Window that I’m a huge fan of,” Hartman says. “It’s just a video of a city shot on a Tripod. It’s all sounds, the ambience, but it’s so interesting how long that can hold your attention. There’s nothing particularly interesting about it but it’s immersive. It kind of pulls you in. It’s awesome.”
Establish Where You Are
Hartman is trying to replicate that in the videos he creates. “I’ve tried to integrate that same feeling,” he says. “Just the sounds of where I am, the culture, what makes it what it is. You have to start off with a very grounded feel before you bring in the excitement, the music, the intro cards.
“With filmmaking, if you don’t establish location, your story falls through because people don’t know where you are. With most daily video creators, they have a camera that they hold and they talk to it all the time, and they forget that the real story is what they’re seeing.
“Although I’m the personality of my videos, and my visual style is kind of my storytelling vehicle. I always try to use time lapses, drone shots and traditional filmmaking establishments. Even if I’m in a tiny little town in back country China, seeing the workers in the fields, hearing the machines that they use, seeing the tools—it sets up a world that you don’t really know.”
With travel, you can structure things how you want, but at the end of the day, it's the one thing you didn't plan for that's going to make your trip.
Cool Fire Hydrants
“With YouTube, there’s a constant pressure to make videos every day,” Hartman says. “A lot of content creators suffer under that kind of panic, and feel the need to drive an hour to go somewhere exciting when really you’re audience is global. To you, when you’re in China, that fire hydrant is awesome. Well to your audience the fire hydrant in your own street is quite awesome.”
Don’t Overplan; Embrace the Unexpected
“With travel, you can structure things how you want, but at the end of the day, it’s the one thing you didn’t plan for that’s going to make your trip,” Hartman says. “It’s the one thing that’s going to be memorable.”
In Maui, “we went shark diving in the morning and took a helicopter ride over a volcano at night,” Hartman recalls. “It was in the taxi ride between those events while talking to the guy who had never left (the island) and had been there his whole life, that I got the most out of my story. The big events worked like fight scenes in a movie. I’ve found the most life between those events.”
Always Seek Out New Experiences
Hartman has visited some of the most popular cities in the world, but it wasn’t until he went beyond their borders that he truly started to appreciate the countries.
“I spent a lot of time in Barcelona, but it wasn’t until I got to Cadiz that I realized Barcelona is just really like a New York,” he says. “That’s why I really like the idea of not just hitting the biggest cities, but hitting the cities that inherently make a country what it is.
“There have been so many countries that have been Westernized,” he adds, noting that’s especially apparent in major business hubs. “Everything’s kind of the same.”
Hartman was able to experience a different side of China when MasterCard and the Beijing Tourism Bureau flew him to the Chinese capital.
“Beijing was interesting but we stayed in a couple little villages outside Beijing—one of which was the only place where the Great Wall touches water,” he says. “It was really interesting because most of the people in the village had never seen a white person, and there was so much love and kindness. As I was walking down the street people would pull me off the street and bring me into their home to show me their families’ little figurines. It was just people being interested in other people. That was a huge experience.”
The Baby and the Wolf
Hartman has a favorite story that symbolizes his view on life: The Baby and the Wolf.
“The wolf won’t attack a newborn baby because when the wolf looks at a baby, he just sees that the baby has wonderment and curiosity in his eyes, so he’s not a threat. It’s not until the baby grows up into a man and realizes that the wolf’s a threat that the wolf can sense the fear and attacks the man.”
It’s an interesting tale that can define the types of people who never get a passport or are too afraid to explore beyond where they live, worrying that something bad might happen.
Where He’s Been Recently
This year, “I’ve hit a lot of postcard cities,” Hartman says. “Because the series is still new, I wanted to make sure my audience was involved with all their heart before I started giving them other cities. We were in Maui for a couple weeks. Maui is Maui. But Maui is a great Maui. It’s pretty awesome.”
He’s also been to Tokyo, where he produced one of his favorite short films. For now, he’s been pretty focused on California, “finding the interesting day trips and making them three-day trips,” Hartman says.
Where He’d Like to Go Next
Hartman is keeping his options open. Of course he has a bucket list of places he wants to visit. He’s also thinking of moving to Spain in 2017, a country where he lived for a year during high school.
He wants to travel to South Africa sometime soon. “I’ve never been and that’s somewhere where my photography would run wild,” he says. “I’d love to go to South America. There’s a big rain forest in Colombia. It’s been on the top of my list for so long but I didn’t know how to go there by myself yet.”
If given the chance to go solo, he’d jump at the chance to go to space. “On my bucket list is to see Earth from off of Earth,” he says. “I wish I could see space.”
I always worried about whether I was giving the audience what they wanted, but I never realized that the reason they subscribed was I was giving them what I want.
Earthbound in L.A.
Grounded in Los Angeles, where he’s lived for nearly seven years, Hartman, who grew up in Vero Beach, Florida, is pretty happy “anywhere with water,” he says. “I grew up on an island. Put me anywhere near water and I don’t care what’s going on. I really love the beach.”
In L.A. “I really like quiet,” he says—something that can be hard to find. But Hartman has his favorite spots, including “Top of the World,” a scenic lookout in the city that provides view of downtown L.A., the sprawling Valley and the ocean.
“It’s cool to observe (the city) as a natural canvas,” he says. “I see all these people rushing to their jobs, rushing to get their dreams, but to hear how quiet it is makes it look like a screen.”
A Better Place to Hike
Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon may be one of the most popular places to hike in Los Angeles, “but I actually found a waterfall 30 minutes outside of L.A., right at the base of Angeles National Forest,” Hartman says. “It’s a 3.5 mile hike, and I’ll never even look at Runyon again. It’s three levels of waterfalls (ranging rom 20- to 60-feet in height) but they all have deep pools at the bottom so kids jump off them all day.”
The Best Way to See L.A.
If Hartman had to give someone a list of things to do while in L.A., that list would most likely be a road map. “I would give them a loop to drive and I’d be like once you’ve seen that, get out of the city,” Hartman says. “You’ve seen it. It’s like Vegas. Drive the strip once then go out and hang in the desert somewhere.”
Do What Makes You Happy
Producing a video a week helped generate Hartman a strong following and fanbase on YouTube. “But it wasn’t until I started doing daily (videos) that I started creating them for myself,” he says. “I always worried about whether I was giving the audience what they wanted, but I never realized that the reason they subscribed was I was giving them what I want. It’s been interesting now that I don’t have any free time, but it’s the happiest I’ve ever been. At the end of every day, even if you fail, tomorrow is a blank slate.”