In 2009 I picked up an old 35mm camera and began learning the art of photography. I now travel across the United States (and sometimes beyond) working as a freelance travel writer and photographer, having been publishing in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Photography has always been my first passion. With enough gear to break my back and just enough knowledge to use it all I capture stunning photography that tells a visual story of the places I visit. My unique style stands out among the millions of photos uploaded everyday helping me maintain an identity and connect with viewers.
Writing has always been my oldest passion. Starting with Star Trek short stories when I was just 12 years old, today I write freelance travel stories about my adventures. With a fresh cup of coffee and the early morning light pouring through the window I sit down each day to write about destinations, local businesses, popular attractions, or just put together a list of top this and that to see across the country.
Combine all this together, and you have Southeastern Traveler. Through this website I post stories of my adventures, galleries with collections of my best photography, and I connect with other travelers around the world to help craft their next adventure. If you really want to get into the nitty gritty feel free to read my origin story below, or you can learn how to Work With Me or Contact Me now.
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy my story!
In 2009 I made the fateful decision to begin learning the art of photography. As a college student I didn’t have the money lying around to purchase even a low-end DSLR, so instead I went the 35mm route. I pulled out this dusty box my grandmother had given me a few years earlier that was filled with 35mm goodies: two Pentax K1000 camera bodies, an assortment of lenses from a wide angle to a 135mm telephoto, closeup filters, B&W filters, and a nice leather bag. For the first six months I never went anywhere without that camera bag and a few rolls of film.
In January 2010 I used my financial aid refund for the semester to buy my first DSLR camera gear: a used Nikon D200 and grip, the “nifty fifty” Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens, and a used Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. This was just the beginning, but it was a good beginning. That semester I began working as the university’s only student photographer, spending about 20-30 hours a week shooting on-campus events, sports, and portraits. I made plenty of mistakes, but learned from them. I made some of the mistakes again, and learned from them again. My mentor, Jamie Moncrief, taught me the absolutely invaluable lessons of the uselessness of free photography, the art of getting the shot, and the business of photography.
In mid-2010 I took on my first professional photography assignment: capturing photos at the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was my first big-time, paid professional gig as a photographer. At the time I wanted to be a sports photographer. Every once in awhile I still think about that line of photography, but I’m also content where I am now. This first paid gig allowed me to buy a few more lenses, a second camera body, and soon enough I was well on my way to carve out a niche for myself.
Near the end of 2010 I made another fateful decision that would change the course of my life. Developers had broken ground on the SkyWheel Myrtle Beach, what was at the time billed as the “largest observation on the East Coast of the U.S.”. At the time it was a big event for Myrtle Beach and resonated around the world. Still coming off the heels of shooting sports photography and photo journalism, I decided this would be a great story to tell. I contacted the site manager and got permission to visit the construction site once or twice a week to capture photos of the construction process from beginning to end.
Six months later if anyone did a Google search for “SkyWheel Myrtle Beach” they would find my tiny little WordPress blog before they would see the SkyWheel’s own website. This caught the attention of the firm in St. Louis responsible for marketing the attraction. After a lunch meeting one day in Myrtle Beach the firm hired me to capture the beauty photos and grand opening ceremony of the SkyWheel.
Shortly after I posted photos of the grand opening ceremony in May 2011 to my photography website I was inundated with requests for my photos from magazines, newspaper, and travel sites around the world. Europe, India, and Australia. Local newspapers. A few national travel magazines. Just like that I had become a travel photographer.
But that was only the beginning. Since then my photography style has changed, I have learned the art of travel photography, I have gotten better at getting the shot in the can and working with locals to capture the essence of a destination.
At first I was 100% focused on travel photography. It took enough of my time as it was, so I didn’t really have time to even consider anything else. But ever since creating my first professional website in 2010 I had added stories to a blog.
The first blog took on the form of an incredibly simple photo journalism blog. Each entry was nothing more than one or two paragraphs talking about my visit to a particular destination followed by 5-10 of my favorite photos from that destination. It was simple, brought viewers to be site, but didn’t really engage anyone. I averaged about 500 unique visitors a month, with most of those being photo editors for newspapers and magazines that were interested in licensing my photography.
But in 2014 I decided to take it up a notch. I was already visiting so many local restaurants, attractions, museums, and going on adventures. I was already taking notes on all these adventures so I could write full and complete photo captions. I knew that if I just invested a little more time I could also start writing. Well that “little more time” became a lot more time, but eventually I began writing full travel stories for my website. I decided “Jason Barnette Photography” was not a place someone would visit to read travel stories, so I decided I needed a new name.
Unfortunately everything I was wanted was already taken. Eventually I settled on Southeastern Traveler. It was accurate for the most part: I mostly travel the Southeastern United States because this is where I was born, raised, and spent almost my entire adult life. I feel this area of the country is underappreciated and often overlooked. So I decided to make a career right here at home.
With the creation of Southeastern Traveler I took my travel writing and photography to the next step. I began devoting my life to a 50/50 split of the two industries. I continued to license my travel photography to CVB’s, state tourism agencies, and travel magazines. At the same time I began writing more in-depth stories, growing from individual stories about a single restaurant or attraction to more comprehensive stories covering large destinations or topics. By mid-2015 I was averaging 50,000 unique visitors per month on my website. Finally, I was making an impact on the travel industry.
Keeping in line with making fateful decisions every few years, I made another one in January 2015. I moved out of my townhouse in the beautiful, charming country town of Abingdon, Virginia and put almost everything I owned into storage. I kept a few things like clothing, my desktop computer equipment, and books which I put into the spare bedroom of my parents’ house. I was now lighter, more mobile, and not tied down to any one location.
So I hit the road. I began traveling to places I had never been, spending weeks instead of days. It all began with a five day trip to Beaufort, SC. It continued through the year as I spent 10 days in Chattanooga, TN. Two weeks in Charleston, SC. I took my first professional trip outside the Southeastern United States to spend two weeks in Fort Wayne, IN. During this particular trip I took a day trip by Amtrak to Chicago. I spent most of my year traveling, writing, shooting, and sharing all my adventures with as many people as possible.
Just after mid-2015 I hit a snag in the road. More like a steel and concrete wall in the road. I came across a personal health issue (that’s just what we’ll call it) that took me out of the action for nearly 8 months. It would profoundly impact me as a travel writer and photographer, but I managed to pick myself up again.
In May 2016 my “personal health issue” subsided and I found myself eager to travel again. I wasn’t able to drive very long distances just yet, no more than a hundred miles a day. I was out of breath and knees trembling just walking a hundred feet from my car. My mind and heart may have been ready to travel, but my body just wasn’t ready yet. So I did what I could: I stayed local.
After 8 months of stagnation my viewership had plummeted to just 5,000 unique visitors per month. I needed to get back out there again. Slowly but surely I began exploring the Grand Strand area of South Carolina, taking day trips to Wilmington, North Carolina, and eventually heading off to extended stays. I focused on redesigning Southeastern Traveler to make it cleaner, simpler, and more user-friendly. I revisited all the books on travel writing I had read a year earlier, scoured social media for inspiration, and created a game plan.
I restarted my travel with a two-week adventure at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, followed by another week on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Traveling had resumed, and it felt amazing. But it didn’t just stop there.
Things got crazy busy for me over the next few months. A last-minute travel assignment to Beaufort, South Carolina turned into a double assignment and a one-night stay at a beautiful bed and breakfast. What was supposed to be a three-night stay at Notso Hostel in Charleston turned into a five-night stay followed by a few days as travel guide/partner to a new friend as we moved up the South Carolina coast.
But the biggest change of the year came after a small tragedy: Hurricane Matthew. The Category 2 hurricane blew through Myrtle Beach, SC just a week before I was set to embark on my Appalachian Fall Tour. A flash flood swept through the quiet neighborhood two days after the hurricane past, and took my car along with it. Declaring it totaled, my insurance company said it would be about 10 days before I would get the insurance check, but the fall trip was set to begin in two days.
In rushed the grandmother to save the day. No longer able to drive, she was looking to sell her minivan. She sold it to me for $1. All of a sudden I owned a minivan and had the ability to do something I had read about: Van Life. I removed all the seats from the back, packed it with an air mattress and camping equipment, threw in my photography and video gear, and I was ready to live on the road. Literally. I spent the next 29 days driving 2,420 miles from Syracuse, New York to Chattanooga, Tennessee without ever driving on an interstate. Oh, and I didn’t pay for a single hotel. Instead I slept in the van in Walmart parking lots, used the showers at Planet Fitness gyms, and spent a few nights with friends or sleeping in hostels.
It was an introduction to a life style I had read about and found intriguing. Now I had experienced in a minivan for almost a month. I was sold. I began researching larger cargo or passenger vans, scouring the Internet for how-to videos and tutorials, and started placing bids for my first big van. Everything was about to change, but it would have to change in the next year. I had spent the last 7 months living on the road, traveling full-time again, and I was ready for a break. I came off the road a few days before Thanksgiving, and spent the rest of the year relaxing. Well, relaxing when I wasn’t editing photos or writing stories.
I have a little secret to tell you: I don’t put my best content on my travel site. I always have a few ideas, a few travel stories, a few photographs that I keep to myself. I market those little treasures to magazines, newspapers, and bigger travel sites hoping it will catch someone’s attention and they’ll say, “How much for the lot?”
If you’re interested in where I am now, and what’s next, take a look at the map below. I update this travel map each month to show all my potential adventures, and I update my location each time I move.
Are you interested in me visiting your business or attraction during an adventure? Drop me an email and let me know! Would you like to license some of my travel photography or freelance writing? Drop me a message! I am happy to work with as many people as possible!