A Brief History
I could sum up my entire childhood by saying I grew up in a national forest. I was born in a small town in Southwest Virginia and grew up in an even smaller town in the Appalachian Mountains. Adventure was a part of my early life – and road trips have been a part of me since the very beginning.
After graduating high school, I did what any child of two teacher would do – I went to college. But I only attended Virginia Tech for a single semester. I left for various reasons and even to this day there is a hole in my heart that can only be filled by graduating as a fully fledged Hokie.
I attended various community colleges and four-year institutions over the next ten years. I declared majors in elementary education, psychology, and film studies. But I could never find what I wanted to do with my life. After finishing three years at UNCW in Wilmington, North Carolina, I left university life behind and began to forge my own future.
That future began with the SkyWheel Myrtle Beach. When construction began on the iconic oceanfront attraction – it was one of the largest in the country at the time – I approached the site supervisor and asked permission to visit once a week to capture photos of the construction process. One year later, I captured the attention of the marketing firm for the SkyWheel Myrtle Beach and they hired me to capture all their initial website and social photos.
I used that initial income to buy pro-level Nikon DSLR camera gear and began traveling across the country. I worked as a freelance photographer for small Convention and Visitors Bureaus and a few magazines. I was published in GQ, National Geographic Traveler, and Budget Travel.
I wanted to draw more attention to my photography, so I began a blog. At first, I would only write 3-5 paragraphs describing a recent adventure and then include all the best photos. But I quickly discovered a passion for travel writing – telling stories to inspire others to follow in my footsteps. I again worked as a freelance writer for CVBs, state tourism agencies, and local magazines.
My name is Jason and I don’t just write about road trips – my entire life is a road trip. I’ve been capturing professional travel photos for over ten years, writing for about half that time, and road tripping since I got my driver’s license. And just how do you think I manage to do all this? With lots and lots – and lots – of coffee.
Photography - My Greatest Passion
I’ve never taken a single class in photography – but I have read a lot of books, watched hundreds of hours of videos, and studied some of the best photographers in the world.
When I was 25, the grandmother gave me a box of her camera gear. Stuffed inside, I found two Pentax K-1000 35mm film cameras, several lenses, and a bevy of accessories. But I scoffed at the antiquated cameras and stuffed them in the bottom of my closet.
Five years later – while attending UNCW and majoring in film studies – I became frustrated that all our film projects were captured on digital cameras. How was I supposed to learn about depth of field and the mechanics of shooting films on 35mm or 70mm if we only had digital video cameras?
I pulled the box of antiquated cameras out of the closet, bought a pack of B&W film from the nearby Walmart, and started learning the concepts of photography. I figured if I could properly expose and frame one photo at a time, I could understand the concept of doing the same at 24 frames per second.
Today, I take my camera backpack stuffed full with Nikon DSLR, lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina, and an assortment of accessories with me everywhere I go. Hiking trails. Restaurants. Museums. Grocery stores. Seriously, I take my camera with me everywhere because I never know when I’ll find an amazing scene I want to capture.
Photography is my greatest passion. Considering time spent capturing the photos, waiting for the right moment to develop, and post-processing the photos, I invest about 50% of my time into photography. On this website, photos are presented larger than the text. My social media posts always include a high-quality photo. And I license my photography as one of my income streams.
Writing - My First Passion
Writing was my first passion. When I was 12 years old, my parents bought me a Brother typewriter. One page at a time, I began writing short stories. At first, my stories were exclusively set in the Star Trek universe – I have always been a big Trekkie – but then my mind began creating new universes to explore.
I have always been a writer – though I have never published any of my fiction work. I have countless stories saved on my hard drives. I may do something with those someday – but for now, I focus on travel writing.
I wanted my photography to rank higher in search engine results. I had read an article suggesting Google preferred blogs over any other type of website. Since the beginning my website brand had been Jason Barnette Photography – but in late 2012 I started a new website called Southeastern Traveler.
I bought every book about travel writing that I could find. Travel Writing by L. Peat O’Neil. Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing. Tim Leffel’s Travel Writing 2.0. I read all of these books from cover to cover, highlighted importation sections, stuck tabs on the pages for quick reference.
Slowly – sometimes too slowly – I learned the craft of writing travel stories that paints a vivid picture of a destination and inspires a sense of wanderlust in the reader. I enjoy adding tidbits of history into my writing – something my long-time followers have enjoyed for years. Research, write, edit, and publish. Repeat 2-3 times each week.
Photography will always be my greatest passion, but writing was the first. While I have a camera in one hand, I have a journalist notepad in the other. I am always looking for that one great story to tell about a destination.
Road Trips - My Current Passion
On the weekends, the only thing my brother, sister, and I wanted to do was sleep in late. That was rarely an opportunity – especially during the summer. “Up and at ’em!” my parents would scream throughout the house at 7 a.m. It was time for another family road trip.
Our road trips typically lasted just a day. We would drive up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Mabry Mill to the Linn Cove Viaduct. Sometimes, it was just a circuit through the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. Every once in awhile, we would go on a long road trip to hidden gems like Burke’s Garden or Smith Mountain Lake.
Each year we would head out from the mountains to Myrtle Beach for the family vacation for a week. Sometimes, we would tack on an extra week – we would start with a few nights in Virginia Beach and then road trip down the coast through the Outer Banks to Myrtle Beach. One of my fondest childhood memories is digging through piles of bags in the back of the family car looking for crackers and cheese beneath the shadow of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
When I turned 16 I promptly got my driver’s license and a small car. I immediately began driving all over the county, gradually working up to the entire region. There was just something about long drives on two-lane roads through gorgeous scenery that prompted me to keep driving.
During the first ten years of my adult life I would visit the grandmother frequently. It was a long drive from the coastal Carolinas to northeast Tennessee. It was made even longer by the fact I hated driving on interstate highways. I was always scouring maps looking for a scenic route that would get me there in twice the time. Every time I would arrive at the grandmother’s house well past sunset. She would be standing in the doorway with unfiltered eagerness on her face as she asked, “What in the world took you so long?”
“I made a few stops along the way,” I would always reply. The next day we would always sit side by side on the couch and I would tell her the stories of everything I did on the way to see her again.
Today, road trips are an integral part of my life. I drive interstate highways when I must, but most frequently you’ll find me on a U.S. Highway or local county road. I believe it’s important to take the scenic route because you just don’t know what you might be missing on the interstate – and you may never go that direction again.
I'm a Nomad - Kinda, Sorta
“Where do you call home?” the lady asked.
I tossed a glance over my shoulder toward the parking lot and replied, “My car.” This has always been my reply, though about half the time people take it too literally and assume I am living out of my car.
Wait. Actually, I do live out of my car. I just don’t live in my car.
In early 2015, just a few days after the New Year, I packed everything I owned from a three-bedroom townhouse and drove it to South Carolina to put it into storage. I have not owned or rented a home since.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m homeless. I spend a few months each year at my parents’ house in Charleston, South Carolina where I can write, process photos, and relax. When I’m on the road I stay at hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins – I almost always have a solid roof over my head. Every few weeks I will take an entire week to settle down somewhere so I can catch up on life.
My home is wherever I happen to be. Everything I need in life fits into my Honda Pilot – although I do need a roof rack for a few more things. I am happiest when I’m on the road, but I’m not always on the road. I’m a nomad, kinda sorta. I just travel a littler slower and stay a little longer than most nomads.
What is Road Trips & Coffee?
Beginning a blog in 2012, I had been doing business online as Southeastern Traveler. My idea was that I was the Southeastern Traveler – but I would travel anywhere. However, people took it to mean I only traveled the southeastern United States. That pigeonholed me in a way that wasn’t good for my brand.
In 2019, I made the fateful decision to rebrand. I spent weeks jotting down possible brand names, searching social media to see if the handles were available, and coming up with a short list of possibilities. I began asking myself important questions. Who am I? What is my niche in the world of travel? What would make my blog stand out in a crowd?
The first brand name I came across that was available as a website domain and all relevant social media channels was Coffee and Road Trips. It was intriguing – but it wasn’t there yet. I reversed the order to Road Trips & Coffee – and when all the necessary prerequisites were checked, I knew I had my new branding.
Every destination I visit involves a road trip either getting there or leaving. I have become an expert on all things involved with road trips – car maintenance, essential packing items, route planning, and different types of road trips. And to keep up with the demand of a travel blogger’s life, I drink a lot of coffee.
Road Trips & Coffee is where I share destination stories, connect the dots with road trip guides, teach visitors how to prepare, plan, and execute a road trip, and share my passion of discovering local coffee shops. I sprinkle in high-quality photography with non-award winning writing, include just a splash of my personality, and you have everything you will find on this website.
What are you waiting for? Are you ready to #GoForaDrive?