what i do
One time while I was in college I drove from coastal North Carolina to Northeast Tennessee to visit the grandmother. Although it was just an 8 hour drive it took me nearly 14 hours to finish it. When I arrived the grandmother was waiting for me at the door, just like always, where she said cheerfully, “Well it’s about time! What took you so long?” I gave her the same answer I always gave, “I just made a few stops along the way.”
At some point I realized I was just incapable of driving from Point A to Point B without making stops at Points C, D, and E along the way. I bring that same desire to travel to my adventures today as I slowly road trip across the country. With a camera in one hand, a notepad in the other, and my Three Golden Rules of Road Trips at the back of my mind I write about road trips and destinations.
I have been capturing travel photography since 2009, penning my travel adventures since 2012, and putting all this on display at Southeastern Traveler since 2015. Browse around a little bit, read my latest blog post, peruse my travel photography, or drop me a message below so we can begin working together.
my origin story
If you have some free time and want to enjoy a good story take a look at this. My origin story begins when I was just 14 and leads to the person I am today. Enjoy!
When I was 14 years old my parents bought our first family computer. It was a Compaq-Presario and came with a fancy Hewlett-Packard printer.
I was in 8th grade at the time. Every Friday in my English Literature class I would receive a set of twenty spelling words that, along with everyone else in the class, I would have to be able to spell and use in complete sentence by the next Friday. But this one time the teacher decided to throw us for a loop. She asked us to spend the weekend writing a one-page story using five of the twenty spelling words.
I worked furiously throughout the weekend. It was Spring and the weather was warming up but I spent the entire weekend chained to the new computer. But on Monday I walked into the classroom empty handed. I explained that I was working on something really great but I wasn’t finished yet and asked for more time. I asked for more time again on Tuesday, Wednesday, but by Thursday the teacher told me it was the end of the week and finally due.
On Friday I walked into the classroom with 25-page story, typed double spaced on one side of the paper, using all twenty spelling words, with every single person in my class a character in my story. I had used a program on the computer to draw a cover and put the whole story in a presentation binder.
In 2005 the grandmother gave me two Pentax K-1000 35mm film cameras. At first I scoffed at this cameras and stuffed them in a box at the bottom of my closet.
A few years later I was attending the University of North Carolina in Wilmington working on a degree in Film Studies. While the Film Department was fantastic at teaching theory they seriously lacked in equipment to teach practicality. All our class projects were filmed on digital cameras. How was I supposed to learn the mechanics of motion pictures and practice depth of field with these cameras?
So I pulled out the box with the 35mm film cameras. I figured if I could learn how to capture properly exposed tack-sharp photos one image at a time I should be able to do the same at 24 frames per second.
During my last year at UNCW I joined the somewhat lackluster photography club, met the university’s chief photographer, and began working as the school’s only student photographer. That first job taught me a lot about the business side of photography and pushed my shyness to the limit to get the photos I needed for the assignment.
By the time I was finished at UNCW I had upgraded to a pair of Nikon D200 camera bodies, my first professional-level digital cameras, along with a couple of third-party lenses.
The summer months had only just started when I received my first professional photo assignment. UNCW was hosting the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship. I had come to know the athletics director at the university through my previous job as the student photographer so he was kind enough to suggest the other universities hire me to capture photos of their teams.
Seven of the universities hired me. For a few days in early June I lugged around hefty photography gear while capturing photos of the championship. I developed massive blisters on my feet, my lower back was in agony, but I captured photos picked up by ESPN and the NCAA so I was pretty happy with it all.
With my first real paycheck for a photography assignment I moved to Myrtle Beach, SC to seek out my fortune as a freelance photographer. It wouldn’t go as I had hoped at all.
By late August I was settled into a rather nice house I was renting on a cul-de-sac in Myrtle Beach. I had my tiny little website and a fledgling Facebook page. I put the word on the street that I was a freelance photographer ready for assignments.
Only the assignments never came. The local newspaper would throw a few my direction every once in awhile but it never went anywhere serious. I tried getting into the sports scene but found that too many amateur photographers with consumer-level gear were willing to shoot the events for free. After a few months of trying I ended up shooting portraits of families on the beach because that’s what everyone else did in Myrtle Beach.
My big break came in 2010 when developers broke ground on the SkyWheel Myrtle Beach. It was promised to be one of the biggest tourism projects to ever come to Myrtle Beach and at the time one of the tallest observation wheels in the country.
On the first day of construction I introduced myself to the site foreman and asked permission to come out once or twice a week to capture photos of the construction process. I figured one day it would make a nice photojournalism story looking back at the construction of such an iconic structure.
After months of capturing photos and posting them on my tiny website I found myself in the top position on Google search results. This caught the attention of the marketing firm hired to promote the SkyWheel.
One day their marketing director came to Myrtle Beach and took me out to lunch. We had a nice conversation about my small career as a photojournalist. By the end of the meal she hired me to capture photos at the grand opening ceremony and beauty shots for their website and marketing.
Next thing I know newspapers and magazines around the world are licensing my photos of the SkyWheel. Suddenly I was a travel photographer! A few weeks later Budget Travel Magazine reached out to me to capture photos for an upcoming story they were doing. That was in 2010 and I haven’t looked back yet.
When I first started all this I figured using my name as my business name was good enough. For years Jason Barnette Photography was my online identify and domain name for my website.
I began reaching out beyond Myrtle Beach to find CVBs and tourism agencies willing to hire me for some photography. Ironically one of my first big breaks in this area was the town where I was born: Abingdon, Virginia.
The grandmother lived nearby in Johnson City, Tennessee. During one trip up there to see her I decided to go back to Abingdon for the first time in ten years. I popped into the visitor center in an old house on a hill, introduced myself, and asked where I should go for some photography in town. When I returned home they were so impressed with my photography that they decided to begin hiring me to come back and capture photos for their website and social media.
The assignments kept coming for many years. Local businesses, tourism agencies, and even marketing firms for larger clients. I began getting a yearly assignment from Madden Media who worked on the South Carolina tourism magazine.
These were good years, but it was only a first step toward what I really wanted.
By 2014 I had started to notice my audience dwindling. They loved my photography, but those photos were all I ever had to share. I decided it was time to expand just a little bit. I dug deep within myself to rediscover a passion I had for writing.
At first it was just 1-3 paragraphs at the beginning of a blog post explaining where I went and what I did followed by 10-15 of my favorite photos from that trip. But eventually it involved into something more. I began interviewing owners of local restaurants and boutique shops. I started adding more relevant content like contact info for these businesses and a map of their location.
One day I realized Jason Barnette Photography was not the right place for the kinds of blog posts I was putting out. With a little bit of a heavy heart I decided it was time to rebrand.
I spent days scouring every possible domain on GoDaddy trying to find just the right one. My first choice, Southern Traveler, was already taken. So was Jason Barnette. I wanted the word “travel” in my domain somehow. Finally I settled on Southeastern Traveler.
At first my plan was to include “I am the” at the beginning of the logo on my website and watermark. But eventually I trimmed that away and was left with a name that led people to believe the only place I traveled was the Southeastern United States.
I developed an entirely new website design to go with the rebranding effort. Now my website was evenly divided between showcasing my travel photography and the new blog posts I was writing to go along with it. Over the next two years the website would undergo many changes but I still felt rudderless. I still hadn’t found my niche.
When I read Tim Leffel’s Travel Blogging 2.0 book he repeatedly said everything came down to your niche. Write for your niche. Focus on your niche. Be your niche.
Travel was much too broad a niche. Even the southeastern part of the country would have been too broad if I had decided to stick with that as a niche. For years I pondered this question while continuing a general travel lifestyle.
For awhile I tinkered with “literally anything under the sun” as a travel niche. I have always loved hiking, camping, chasing waterfalls, and drives along scenic highways. Then I thought I would try a niche of travel story telling. Instead of telling stories from my perspective I would instead create a character and write blog posts from a fictional perspective but using my real-life experiences. However neither of these really worked for me.
Then I decided to attend the 2018 Travel Blog Exchange conference in Corning, NY. I still had much to figure out about myself and hoped the conference could provide some inspiration. It did, just not in the way I was expecting.
I decided to go on another of my road trips from Cherokee, NC to Corning, NY. It was during the planning that I realized between 2015-2018 I had gone on five distinct road trips, each with a particular theme and campaign surrounding it. That’s when I realized: road trips were my niche. They weren’t just a passion or a career; they were a way of life.
I started writing more about road trips. I developed my own custom themes for my road trip stories. I even thought about how to write how-to road trip articles. Everything now was about road trips: either the road trip I was currently driving or one that I was writing for others to drive.
By the end of 2018 I knew I needed to change. I didn’t need a complete rebranding as I had done four years earlier, but I needed to refocus my travel blog to hone in on my niche of road trips.
The website you see now is a result of a month’s work throughout December. A brand new theme supported by Theme Fusion and Elementor have made my website more powerful and user-friendly than ever before. Now the niche of “I write about road trips and destinations” was front and center. Better website organization made it easier to find everything I did.
Now I focus my time and energy on writing about road trips. Everything is about road trips. Either my current road trip across the country or one I suggest others drive for themselves. Everything I write about from food and restaurant reviews to outdoor adventures or best places to sleep all revolved around the niche of road trips.
I drive the country one mile of the double yellow line at a time. I’ll never drive it all, but I’ll get close. And this is where you can read about it all.