Friday 10: Podcasts for long trips

I love podcasts! I listen to them when I'm driving, cooking, working out, cleaning. . .ok, you get the point. I listen to them a lot.  But most of all I love them for traveling because they are on-demand, transportable, and super entertaining once you find the ones you love. 

Here's my list of 10 podcasts to keep me sane on long trips. There's a little bit of something in here for everyone: food, history, science, pop culture, and more. 

This American Life

It's hard to sum up This American Life (TAL). It's so many things. Each week is different.  Even they have a hard time summing up TAL on their About page, but I think they say it best:

So usually we just say what we’re not. We’re not a news show or a talk show or a call-in show. We’re not really formatted like other radio shows at all. Instead, we do these stories that are like movies for radio. There are people in dramatic situations. Things happen to them. There are funny moments and emotional moments and—hopefully—moments where the people in the story say interesting, surprising things about it all. It has to be surprising. It has to be fun.

My first experience with TAL was in my 3rd year of university. It was early one Friday morning. I was in my tiny US history seminar with my requisite giant cup of coffee. Our prof pulled out a boombox, popped in a tape (!), and played this episode of Sarah Vowell and her twin sister's journey along the Trail of Tears. I was mesmerized by the story. It was everything I loved about history and travel and storytelling all in one. I was hooked! After class, I went back home and started making my way through the TAL archive. I've been a loyal listener ever since.

Start with: The most recent show on their homepage, the Trail of Tears, or The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar, or choose from a list of their favorites here and here. You can't go wrong.


I could describe Radiolab as a one hour science podcast, but it's more than that. It's a show that weaves science with wonder and curiosity and music into beautiful stories. The hosts, Jad and Robert are fantastic together. Their comments and observations often make the show for me.

Start with: The most recent episode, Limits, or The Good Show, or choose from the archive

Snap Judgement

Snap Judgement is an hour of true, fascinating stories, based on a theme, told by the people who lived them. Glynn Washington, the host, always starts the show off with a fascinating story of his own. I have been on the edge of my seat listening to some of these, especially "Where No One Should Go" from The Return and "Secrets in Siberia" from The Gratitude Special 2013

Start with: The most recent episode, or The Return, or The Gratitude Special 2013

Pop Culture Happy Hour

Pop Culture Happy Hour is fun rundown and panel discussion of pop culture news and events for the week. They always finish with what's making them happy and I love checking out their picks afterward--from new books to songs to articles to movies. 

Start with: The most recent episode

The Dinner Party Download

Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam host the Dinner Party Download, a weekly hour long podcast that sets you up for any small talk or dinner parties you might encounter in the week. There's playlists, an ice-breaker joke, cocktail recipes, interviews, etiquette advice doled out by famous people, and more. A little of this, a little of that. 

Start with: the most recent episode 

Go Fork Yourself

Andrew Zimmern, chef and host of Bizarre Foods, talks with his co-host Molly Mogren and other chefs about the food world on Go Fork Yourself. I love this podcast! It's about an hour long. Zimmern and Mogren are down to earth and fun to listen to. It's perfect for firing up my inner foodie. 

Start with: the most recent episode, or choose an interview with a chef you love (I loved learning about Jonathan Waxman)

The Gist

I recently heard about The Gist, hosted by Slate's Mike Pesca, on TAL. It's a 20 to 30 minute daily podcast on the day's best stories or news, plus a bonus speil from Pesca on. . .whatever he wants to rant or rave about.  I've been enjoying it as a quick, easy, interesting look at what's going on in the world. It would be great for keeping track of  "real life" while traveling without going down the rabbit hole of news. 

Start with: This week's episodes

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History

Hardcore History is more of a book-on-tape meets podcast. This is something to listen to when you have a long journey ahead. Some podcasts are 4+ hours long, others are broken into 2 to 3 hour episodes. They aren't university history lectures, but they also aren't light, fluffy topics. Carlin has his own unique style, but he does extensive research and takes you deep into major historical events like the fall of Rome or start of World War I in Blueprint for Armageddon. As the site describes it: 

In “Hardcore History” the very unconventional Dan Carlin takes his “Martian”, outside-the-box way of thinking and applies it to the past. Was Alexander the Great as bad a person as Adolf Hitler? What would Apaches with modern weapons be like? Will our modern civilization ever fall like civilizations from past eras? This is a difficult-to-classify show that has a rather sharp edge. It’s not for everyone.

Start with: Prophets of Doom for the story of the Münster Rebellion (my favorite so far)

Stuff You Missed in History Class

While I enjoy Hardcore History, it can be a bit heavy and requires a significant time comittment. So I always save it for trips. Stuff You Missed in History Class, however, I listen to a couple of times each week when they release new episodes.

I adore this podcast! The hosts, Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey, do a great job of choosing meaty, interesting, yet fun topics and stories from different eras and regions of the world. There are stories of heists, fashion, food, science, civil rights, battles and so, so much more. There's something for just about everybody.

The podcasts are perfect for travel, too. Each episode is around 30 minutes long, so you can often go back into the archives and choose a number of different episodes that relate to a region or place you're going to.

Start with: The most recent episodes, or Rose Bertin (Marie Antoinette's fashion designer), or H.H. Holmes and the Mysteries of Murder Castle (Part 1, Part 2), or choose something based on your interests from All Topics on the sidebar

Stuff Mom Never Told You

Last, but not least! Another great podcast from the How Stuff Works family. Stuff Mom Never Told You is a little difficult to describe. Here's how they put it:

Fueled by boundless curiosity and rigorous research, Cristen and Caroline are girls-next-door gender experts who skillfully decode the biology, psychology and sociology of ladies and gents, from their evolutionary past to millennial present, to better understand what modern womanhood is really about…because life is full of Stuff Mom Never Told You.

It's another podcast that I listen to throughout the week as episodes are released. It's generally 30 minutes long and Cristen and Caroline have a way of making it seem like your best friends are discussing really interesting, thought provoking topics in a fun way. I highly recommend it!

Start with: The most recent episode or take a peek at the All Topics sidebar for something that piques your interest

So that's it for this week. I did my best to narrow it down to 10, but there are so many other great podcasts out there that I listen to regularly. I might have to do a follow-up one day.

If these aren't your cup of tea, I can almost guarantee there's a podcast out there for you. It just takes a little searching. 

Do you listen to any of my favorites? What would your list include? I would also love to hear recommendations!