Images courtesy of Radiotopia and Atlas Obscura
Design by Elizabeth See
A long trip is the perfect time to catch up on your podcasts.
The podcasts to listen to on your next long drive or plane ride, whether you’re a history nerd, traveling with kids, or just in need of a true-crime fix.
Summer trips are good for a lot of things: watching scenic landscapes as you wander between states, belting along to epic playlists, and (finally) hopping back on a plane. They’re also good for binge-listening to some of the imaginative and thought-provoking podcasts that are being produced across the country.
A big plus of podcasts is that they represent true democratization of the storytelling space—anyone with a smartphone or voice recorder (and an internet connection) can make one. But that freedom is a double-edged sword: There is a lot to sift through to get to the quality shows, and no semblance of a rating system exists, so it can be difficult to determine what is audience appropriate if you’re listening in a group.
Never fear—we’ve done the work for you. Now that you’ve planned your adventure, here are some of the best podcasts out there (including some family-friendly podcasts!), all perfect for your next long road trip or plane ride, whether you love a good murder mystery or want to laugh for miles.
Did you know you can visit Hitler’s toilet in a New Jersey car repair shop? Or that there’s a library in Edinburgh, Scotland, devoted to the world’s greatest financial mistakes? These are the strange facts you’ll glean from the short (as in roughly 10 minutes) episodes of the daily Atlas Obscura podcast.
Ear Hustle is a long-running, Pulitzer Prize–nominated nonfiction podcast from Radiotopia about life inside the prison system and what happens once people leave it. Each 30-minute episode tells stories that are intimate, funny, heartrending, and difficult. Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams (both formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison) cofounded the podcast with Bay Area visual artist Nigel Poor; since 2019 Rahsaan “New York” Thomas has hosted from inside San Quentin.
Yes, AFAR has a podcast—and season three of Travel Tales by AFAR launches August 25. This time, we’re hitting the road. Head to Australia with two sisters looking to investigate their roots. Chug (slowly) down the West Coast on one of the country’s most iconic trains. And join one traveler as he explores what it really means to be Colombian. Our podcast is your ticket to the world—no passport required.
Adventurers yearning to learn about epic rescues, endurance athletes, and what it’s really like to be on Naked and Afraid should tune into this weekly podcast from the team at Outside magazine. In the most recent season, listeners will learn about eating a poisonous mushroom and how TikTok may be influencing people to spend more time outdoors.
Journalist Brendan Francis Newnam follows up his popular culture podcast, The Dinner Party Download, with Not Lost, in which he travels to places he’s never been before, from Bozeman, Montana, to Montreal, Canada. The twist? In each city, he’s angling for an invitation to a local dinner party—from a perfect stranger. Oh, and he brings a friend from his real life along. Together, they learn as much about themselves as the place they’re visiting.
Host Misha Euceph didn’t even know that the U.S. National Park System existed until she was 21, but a visit to Joshua Tree got her hooked. In this limited-run podcast (eight episodes, published in 2021), she takes a road trip around the country to visit the major national parks. Along the way, she interrogates who exactly the parks are welcoming—ultimately questioning whether they really are for all Americans.
This long-running, multihost show lives up to its tagline: “Investigating a Strange World.” Each episode explores deep questions about life and human nature, from how to stare down death to cross-species communication. A recent episode investigating the importance of names—featuring a story from a fireman named, incredibly, Les McBurney—is a stand-out example of what Radiolab does so well.
One of the best-known fiction podcasts, about a desert town where every conspiracy theory is true, Welcome to Night Vale has been described as “Lake Woebegone as told by Stephen King.” Eight years in, the series—which has spawned several books—is still going strong. (And by strong, we mean it will fully creep you out on your journey.)
This long-running and award-winning dark comedy is about a secret agency that supplies new identities after helping people fake their own deaths. Each episode stands on its own, but if you listen to the series sequentially, you’ll get a long-form story, with a Monty-Python-meets-The-Twilight-Zone feel.
Lovers of short fiction should check out LeVar Burton Reads. Yes, THE LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow, Roots, Jeopardy, and Star Trek fame, whose velvety warm voice encouraged youngster millennials and gen-Zers to embrace their love of literacy. For each of his 150+ episodes, he selects a short story he loves and reads it. Need we say more?
Beloved comedian Tig Notaro offers a kind of anti-advice show: She constantly reminds listeners not to ask her for advice and yet they continue to do so, asking questions that range from the silly (Help! I don’t like tea—how do I turn it down?) to the more profound (Help! My mother wants to move in with us. What do I do?). Then she and her celebrity guests give answering them their best shot, anyway.
Maybe you’ve been in this situation: talking with people who are fluent in a movie or TV series you’ve never seen. If so, you’ll be right at home with Newcomers from comedians Nicole Byer and Lauren Lapkus, a podcast in which they explore a cultural phenomenon they’ve missed. Their newest season takes on the Marvel movies, and the critiques are legit, as are the frequent and funny riffs.
Another culture podcast, this one helmed by comedians Matt Rogers and SNL’s Bowen Yang. Each of the 300-plus episodes includes a mix of deep dives into pop culture, fun bickering, and plenty of criticism (such as the recurring minute-long game “I Don’t Think So, Honey!” about frustrating social and cultural phenomena).
Slate writer Willa Paskin takes a deep dive into a cultural marvel every episode: Wondering why we have Chuck E. Cheese, or why Alberta, Canada is mostly rat-free, or why Andrew Wyeth may have conned us all with his so-called secret “Helga” paintings? Paskin finds the answer. Always meticulously researched but never didactic, her episodes have an expansive tone that can be funny or elegiac, depending on the topic.
A show about America’s horrifying obsession with dieting, weight loss, and body image should not be nearly as funny as this one is. But somehow hosts Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes (formerly of You’re Wrong About) manage to crack us up on a bi-monthly basis. Such topics as Jordan Peterson’s all-meat diet and Super Size Me’s microaggressions are mercilessly eviscerated with research and, well, logic.
Hosts Sarah Marshall (of You’re Wrong About fame) and Alex Steed discuss popular movies of the last 50 years from a fan’s perspective. But they’re particularly focused on the dad characters, which leads to thoughtful (and funny) discussions of masculinity and fatherhood. Marshall and Steed are often joined by a writer or fellow podcaster who chooses a favorite film to discuss—past choices have included Jaws, Misery, and Dirty Dancing.
File this one under “unlikely premise that actually works.” Host Laci Mosley devotes her episodes to the stories of real-life grifts and scams—and the con artists who failed at both. Mosley and her guests (primarily comedians) are hilarious, and she always has an original take, whether she’s calling out fraudulent therapists or the greatest New Zealand sheep farmer con ever committed. As she says, it’s like “true crime without all the death.”
Omnipresent journalist Guy Raz hosts this NPR series in which he interviews entrepreneurs in a long-form format. (Episodes frequently run an hour or longer.) You’ll learn the often-surprising backstories behind well-known brands such as SuperGoop, GoodReads and (our favorite) Tofurkey. It’s not all about the bottom line either. The series is surprisingly diverse, relevant, and upbeat (especially about the necessity of failure).
The First One explored behind-the-scenes stories of musicians’ greatest hits, hosted by DJ Khaled, the rapper, mogul, and record executive. The roughly 45-minute episodes featured some of the biggest names in music (Nas, Mary J. Blige, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani), their backstories, and critically, the song that changed their life. Here’s hoping they make another season!
Bustle contributing editor and host Alicia Menendez welcomes Latinas like comedian Cristela Alonzo, actor Gina Rodriguez, and U.N. General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces to talk about life, challenges, and successes while navigating the world as women of color. Latina to Latina’s weekly half-hour episodes have been running since April 2018 so there are plenty to choose from.
What if homelessness were #Solvable? Or the gender gap in tech? In this podcast, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation as part of an initiative tackling pressing global issues, world innovators and policy makers discuss solutions to complex problems. They’re worth listening to for the innovative thinking and—most of all—a sense of hope.
The Ringer staff writer Rob Harvilla digs into the music that made the 1990s. Each episode focuses on a classic, like “Whoop! There It Is!” or “Semi-Charmed Life.” (Sorry for the earworms!) Harvilla always includes an interview with someone connected to the song, from super-fans who love the artist to music producers who can explain why a song is particularly compelling.
This podcast’s raison d’être is to host a weekly conversation with a nonfiction writer on how they build their stories. But that summation doesn’t begin to prepare you for Longform’s in-depth, one-on-one interviews with writers, filmmakers, and journalists. At nearly 500 episodes featuring all-star guests (George Saunders! Anita Hill! Sarah Marshall!), this show provides plenty of company.
From Tinkercast, and supported by NPR, WOW in the World is an educational kids’ show cohosted by Guy Raz (again!) and author Mindy Thomas. Learn about black holes, supergerms, AI, and more in every episode, which hits the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the day’s theme in a tone best suited for elementary grades.
Finding a podcast that older kids (and teens) will want to listen to with adults can be tricky, but NPR’s classic, long-running news quiz is fun for everyone. Host Peter Sagal, announcer Bill Kurtis, and a rotating cast of comedians welcome ordinary people who call in to play, as well as a celebrity guest who agreeably plays a ridiculous game, too. And you can actually catch up on the news by listening!
When the Anders family finds an 11-year-old girl called Holiday floating in icy Alaskan waters with no memory of who she is, things get a little crazy. Superpowers, robots, and remote islands—all the makings of a family-friendly action-adventure mystery—feature in the fast-paced narrative. Episodes are short (between 6 to 10 minutes, hence the name), ideal for limited attention spans.
Slang, new words, dialects, grammar, and word games are a few of the topics that journalist Martha Barnette and lexicographer Grant Barrett discuss on their long-running podcast. They answer callers’ questions about words, discuss vocabulary that’s appeared in the news, and ponder linguistic curiosities from around the world. (If you’ve ever wondered what it means to “talk like a sausage,” this is for you.) While not specifically designed for children, the pair have created a fun, educational, and family-friendly show.
From American Public Media, these short, little-kid-friendly episodes pair revamped fairy and folk tales with related classical music. Jack and his beanstalk, Stone Soup, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice are all here, ready to entertain your children or help them fall asleep. Bonus: The podcast occasionally releases episodes in Spanish.
These 20-minute-ish episodes featuring narration about the lives of inspiring women are a good listen for kids ages six and up and for grown-ups, too. This self-described “fairy tale podcast” shares the histories of figures like Frida Kahlo, Harriet Tubman, and Celia Cruz.
Pitched as “feminist stories for a new generation,” here are reimagined fairy tales that firmly center girl power. (In other words: You’ll never hear about a damsel in distress.) Every episode is created by women, nonbinary, and trans male playwrights—recent stories include Sakura and the Unicorn, about a girl who saves the day after a unicorn crashes a farmers’ market, and You Can, Laon!, which traces the fictional Laon’s journey from the Philippines to her new home in Freshwater.
Since its debut in 2016, My Favorite Murder has been one of the internet’s favorite true-crime podcasts—in large part because it manages to be funny. Comedians and lifelong true-crime fans Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark discuss murders, crimes, and survivors’ accounts, bringing levity to otherwise grisly topics. Tune in for the stories but mostly for Kilgariff and Hardstark’s banter.
WBUR and the Boston Globe teamed up to create this fascinating series. The first season covers the world’s largest unsolved art heist, in which 13 irreplaceable works were stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in one night. For their second season, which just wrapped, the Last Seen team takes a broader look at people, places, and things that have gone missing.
Let’s say you’re fascinated by true crime, but the idea of all those killers on the loose freaks you out. This is the podcast for you! It’s a true-crime series that’s a little easier to listen to because, as the title reassures, all of the murders have been solved. For four years, hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie have been unpacking not just the killings but also the detective work that got the killer caught.
Just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of women have been murdered. All were from poor towns, commuted on public transit—and then disappeared, only to show up in mass graves with strange and similar injuries. Producer Oz Woloshyn and reporter Mónica Ortiz Uribe explored the mystery of who and what might be behind the murders—and why they’ve remained unsolved, sometimes for decades. It’s a one-season podcast that gives those women a voice.
The long-running series from writer, film historian, and host Karina Longwood covers many aspects of Hollywood, but we think she’s at her best when covering the crimes of Tinsel Town. From a look at the infamous Black Dahlia murders to a season-long investigation into the Manson Family Murders, you’ll get deep dives on the true, haunting stories. Longwood’s episodes are always meticulously researched, which makes them even more gripping.
Over the course of four glorious seasons, The Good Place ruled at NBC, and now it reigns on Netflix. Whether you’re a longtime fan or just discovering how holy motherforking shirtballs good the show was, you must give its official accompanying podcast—hosted by Marc Evan Jackson, who played the demon, Shawn—a listen. During the podcast’s run, nearly every single cast member, show writer, and showrunner stopped in at some point to talk life in the Good (or Bad) Place.
An outstanding podcast from the cable network Turner Classic Movies, The Plot Thickens looks at a specific slice of Hollywood in each season. Season two is the standout, a memorable (and fair) look at the infamous film flop The Bonfire of the Vanities. It’s hosted by journalist Julie Salamon, who was on the film set and knows director Brian DePalma well.
This eight-episode podcast dives into the life of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who ruled during four different governments—until three women and two words brought him down. It’s a fascinating exploration of Italian politics, gender, and Berlusconi’s convoluted and infamous life.
What better road trip companion than an “audio journey through the segregated South”? Social justice activist Janée Woods Weber and BBC broadcaster Alvin Hall teamed up to drive from Detroit to New Orleans, detailing the stories of Black Americans who used the Green Book as a guide to traveling safely (and with dignity) during the midcentury. The series encompasses 10 episodes, which highlight places like the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Hindsight is 20/20—and it’s particularly interesting to revisit the events and public figures of the past with a bit of modern perspective. That’s how journalists Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall approach their weekly podcast, which reconsiders topics like the Terry Schiavo case, Yoko Ono and the Beatles, and those exploding Ford Pintos. Even if you don’t always agree with their assessments, the episodes are thought provoking, and there are plenty of banter-y digressions. Hobbes recently left the program, but Marshall continues on with interesting guests.
With a collection of more than 154 million artifacts to inspire episodes, the Smithsonian’s teaching possibilities are endless. And what’s better than insider access to the world’s largest museum complex? Insider access in your pocket. The Smithsonian’s podcast Sidedoor lets listeners in on topics ranging from the world’s oldest winery to the life of hip-hop artist J Dilla to an ingenious machine that harvests algae and converts it to biomass that could one day power your iPhone. Another plus? It’s family friendly.
For each episode, host Simone Polanon and her writing team choose a historical event that took place that same week and retell the story. Then she extends the conversation to themes ingrained in the event that continue to affect our culture today. Recent topics include the “Crying Indian” TV ad that debuted in 1971, and the 18th-century, pirate-related disaster that led to the U.S. imperial system of measurements.
Brought to you by BBC Radio 4, You’re Dead to Me is a fun podcast that “brings together the best in history and comedy.” In each episode, host Greg Jenner and a (generally funny) guest or guests discuss a historical event, topic, or person, such as medieval medicine or Genghis Khan. It’s equal parts education and laughs! This very British show has sadly stopped publishing, but it’s not at all dated.
Who doesn’t love a juicy scandal? This long-running podcast digs up the truth beneath scandals that rocked and shaped the world, from Exxon Valdez to, more recently, the scandal of all scandals: Watergate.
This story originally published in 2018; it was updated on May 28, 2021, and May 26, 2022, to include current information.
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