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.
If you like going to unexpected places
1. The Atlas Obscura Podcast
Did you know you can visit Hitler’s toilet in a New Jersey car repair shop? Or that there’s a 7-11 convenience store in Baltimore, Maryland marking where the Ouija board was invented? These are the strange facts you’ll glean from the short (roughly 10 minutes) episodes of the daily Atlas Obscura podcast.
2. Travel Tales by AFAR
In season three of Travel Tales by AFAR, we hit 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. Stay tuned for season four, coming in late 2023,
In Unpacked by AFAR—our second podcast—we explore life’s big questions. In season two, we’ve expanded our focus. Want to know where you should go in 2023? Or how to deal with climate change–induced travel anxiety? Through a mix of interviews and personal stories, we delve into your deepest travel dilemmas. Because the world is complicated. We’re here to help you unpack it.
4. Outside Podcast
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, one show is devoted to a story of desperate survival after a man has a stroke while boating in remote Wisconsin. In another, a reporter shares the lessons learned after spending a day chatting with folks riding a ski resort’s chairlift.
5. Zero to Travel
Looking for a show that digs into the reasons to just pack a bag and go? It’s here, from host Jason Moore. This podcast’s longer episodes (one hour-plus) include a deep dive into traveling through Ireland (with a National Geographic expert), a conversation with a blind and partially deaf world traveler, and a thought-provoking exploration of death as a context and inspiration for journeying.
6. National Park After Dark
If Lore was only about stories that had taken place in U.S. national parks, it would sound like this. Hosts Danielle and Cassie are two friends who tell each other true tales set in parks, such as the horrific medical care given at the Battle of Gettysburg, a runner who mysteriously disappeared in Shoshone National Forest, and Diana of the Dunes, a woman who left society to live off the land in what is now Indiana Dunes National Park.
7. Ticket 2 Anywhere
Two best friends, one with a 9-to-5 job and the other with a much looser schedule, discuss travel planning and tips, teasing each other about the limits and potential of their respective lifestyles along the way. Recent episodes explain how to vacation in Bali, discuss whether you should geo-tag your location on social media, and advise on how to ask for time off from work.
If you like fiction
8. Welcome to Night Vale
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.” Nine years in, the series—which has spawned several books—is still going strong at more than 230 episodes!
9. What Should I Read Next
On host Anne Bogel’s long-running (370 eps) show about books, she interviews a fellow book lover about the books they love, the ones they hate, and what they are reading now. With their taste in mind, Bogel then thoughtfully make recommendations about what they should read next. Lately, the show has taken a broader view, considering the fate of independent bookstores and other related topics. Perfect for self-proclaimed book nerds.
10. LeVar Burton Reads
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?
11. The Edge of Sleep
A fiction podcast with a bang-up premise: A night watchman realizes that everyone who fell asleep one night has died; now he and the other remaining night owls must figure out what happened and how to save the world—without snoozing to death themselves. The original season aired in 2019 and a follow-up has been announced for later in 2023, so it’s a good time to catch up.
If it’s all about the comedy (and culture)
12. Don’t Ask Tig
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.
13. Las Culturistas
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).
14. Maintenance Phase
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.
15. You Are Good
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, leading to thoughtful (and funny) discussions of topics cultural, personal, and metaphysical. Marshall and Steed are joined by a writer or fellow podcaster who chooses a favorite film to discuss—everything from Everything Everywhere All at Once to Newsies.
16. The Hilarious World of Depression
Stand-up comedy meets therapy in this one, wherein famous comedians who also have clinical depression (there are a lot of them!) stop in to chat and joke about it with comedian and host John Moe. Episodes are often very funny, frank, and moving. Recent guests include Joel Kim Booster, Andy Richter, and Jameela Jamil.
17: Sound Thoughts on Art
From the Smithsonian’s National Gallery in Washington, D.C. comes this thoughtful show about the intersection of sound and visual art. Hosted by journalist and musician Celeste Headlee, each episode features a discussion of an artwork held in the gallery and the presentation of a song or composition that ties to it, performed by the creator. A recent episode pairing Renoir’s “Young Spanish Woman with a Guitar” with guitarist Sonia De Los Santos was a stand-out.
18: Go Fact Yourself
This hilarious podcast is also a game show recorded live twice a month. Hosts J. Keith Van Strataan and Helen Hong quiz a visiting celebrity (such as Drew Carey) on their self-proclaimed area of expertise (in Carey’s case, the conversation drills down on game shows). In about an hour, you’ll be charmed by the quick wit and erudition.
19: If Books Could Kill
Ever wonder if those airport pop-psychology bestsellers are worth your time? Hosts Michael Hobbes (Maintenance Phase) and Peter Shamshiri (5-4 Podcast) are here to tell you that those books are most definitely not good. Each episode is a witheringly smart and funny takedown of such tomes as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise.
If you like interviews
Start this podcast for the hilarious hosts: Sean Hayes, Jason Bateman, and Will Arnett. Stay for the premise: On each episode, one of them brings an unannounced guest to chat. Recent visitors include Natasha Lyonne, Brendan Fraser, and Eugene Levy. The conversations are funny, of course, but also full of warmth and heart.
21. Latina to Latina
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.
22. WTF with Marc Maron
Launched all the way back in 2009, this OG podcast feels vital again. Comedian Maron’s in-depth interviews with famous guests are funny, compelling, and revealing. The guest list is more diverse these days: Hong Chau, Michelle Yeoh, Wayne Brady, and Radhika Jones have already appeared on the show this year.
23. 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s
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.
24. Desert Island Discs
Launched all the way back in the 1940s, the (very) long-running BBC Radio show has spawned this podcast, with amazing guests (Adele! Steven Spielberg! Cate Blanchett!) choosing the eight songs, one book, and one luxury they’d take to a desert island in each half-hour episode. Host Lauren Laverne’s blend of interview and musical interludes is engaging and revealing.
25. Normal Gossip
Host Kelsey McKinney welcomes a guest to share, discuss, debate, and laugh at a story of utterly banal (and yet somehow deeply juicy) reader-submitted gossip, such as a years-long family contretemps over . . . what to call Grandma? Each episode is equal parts hilarious and confounding.
If You’re Traveling With Kids
26. WOW in the World
From Tinkercast, and supported by NPR, WOW in the World is an educational kids’ show cohosted by Guy Raz 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.
27. Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!
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!
28. Who, When, Wow!
A fun look at spooky and/or obscure historical stories, hosted by “aspiring time travel detective” Carly Q. Recent episodes dug deep into tales about the Loch Ness Monster and the Mystery of Eilean Mor (the disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900). Episodes run about a half-hour and are perfect for kids ages 8 and up. The podcast website provides additional activities, too.
29. A Way with Words
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.
30. Story Seeds
This innovative show pairs a children’s book author with a kid who’s got a story to tell. They collaborate to write that tale, which is read by the author at the end of the episode. Newberry Award winning writers Katherine Applegate and Veera Hiranandani are just two of the collaborators featured, sharing ideas with the young writers about how narrative and creativity work.
31. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
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.
32. Brains On
American Public Media’s science podcast is for curious kids (and adults). Each episode poses an intriguing question—Do plants sleep? How do hearing aids work? Why do we have friends?—and spends a half-hour or so answering it.
If you like true crime
33. My Favorite Murder
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.
34. Last Seen
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 on one night in 1990. They still haven’t been recovered. Subsequent seasons look at other Boston-based stories of things, and people, gone missing.
35. Sold a Story
True crime encompasses more than murder and art heists; this podcast uncovers an ongoing fraud almost as shocking as a killing. It looks at how most U.S. schools teach reading to children, despite the science behind the concept being absolutely disproven 60 years ago. Emily Hanford researched and hosts this jaw-dropping, six-part series for American Public Media.
36. Bear Brook
A deep dive into a multiple murder case, in which four women’s skeletonized remains were found in New Hampshire over a decade apart. The first season of this podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio untangles what happened and who was responsible for the deaths. The original series ran in 2018, and new episodes, about another murder case involving a coerced confession, dropped in February 2023.
37. The Murder in My Family
For a different perspective on true crime, here, the focus is on members of the victims’ families, each of whom tells the story of how their loved one’s death has affected them. Their ongoing attempts to understand and accept what has happened makes for riveting listening, and the hour-long episodes allow for a more nuanced view than many podcasts.
If you like stories about famous people
38. The Plot Thickens
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. The latest season, Here Comes Pam, looks at Pam Grier’s career, hosted by the actress herself.
39. Comments by Celebs
Specializing in people who are famous for being famous (and on Bravo), this podcast thrives on of-the-moment celebrity gossip, with a heavy emphasis on the Kardashians. Hosts Emma Diamond and Julie Kramer are experts on these celebs and provide context and (yes) nuance on the doings of the Vanderpumps, Paris Hilton, Megan Fox, and their C-List ilk.
40. Celebrity Memoir Book Club
Hosts Claire Parker and Ashley Hamilton took the time to read the celeb memoirs you only want to know the highlights from, and they share those insights in this funny podcast. Perhaps the most startling part is realizing just how many famous people wrote (or “wrote”?) a memoir: Common! Lily James! Jennifer Grey! More newsworthy memoirs (like Prince Harry’s) are covered too.
If you’re a history buff
41. You’re Wrong About
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 host Sarah Marshall approaches her podcast, which reconsiders topics like the Terry Schiavo case, Yoko Ono and the Beatles, and an on-going, discursive exploration of the O.J. Simpson case. Recent stand-out episodes explore stories of survival with adventurer Blair Braverman. A close look at the soccer team whose plane crashed into the Andes was spell-binding listening.
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.
43. You’re Dead to Me
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.
44. Crash Course Black American History
Writer Clint Smith hosts this 50-episode podcast, which wrapped at the end of 2022. It provides a nuanced and comprehensive history class on Black America in relatively short—15-minutes-long—episodes. Smith starts with the arrival of the first enslaved people to what would become the U.S. and concludes with the Black Lives Matter movement.
45: The British History Podcast
For a truly long-term commitment, start at the beginning of this 400-plus-episode (and growing) podcast. Host and writer Jamie Jeffers continues to make his stately, and fascinating, way through British history. He began with the end of the last ice age and recently arrived at the year 1069.
This story originally published in 2018. It was updated on May 28, 2021; May 26, 2022; and March 28th, 2023, to include current information.