Images courtesy of Radiotopia and Atlas Obscura
Design by Emily Blevins
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 or a true-crime aficionado
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 new Atlas Obscura podcast. Each delves into a curious place in the world. You’ll be edified—and ready for trivia night—in no time.
Ear Hustle, now in its seventh season, is a nonfiction podcast from Radiotopia about life inside the prison system and what happens once people leave it. Each 30-minute episode of Ear Hustle tells stories that are intimate and funny, as well as heartrending and difficult. Above all, their stories are human. Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams (both formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison) cofounded the podcast with Bay Area visual artist Nigel Poor. In 2020, Ear Hustle was a finalist for the inaugural Pulitzer Prize in Audio Reporting.
Yes, AFAR has a podcast—and season two launches June 10. Join us each week as we dig into stories from people who took a trip—and came home transformed. Travel Tales by AFAR brings some of our favorite journeys to life. Head to the Philippines with a Hawai‘i-born Filipino chef in search of his grandmother’s adobo recipe. Travel with a photographer documenting a daring giraffe rescue in Kenya. And discover how one traveler used nature to heal his PTSD. 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 hear an Appalachian Trail horror story, true tales of treasure hunting, and lessons from a storm chaser who finally met her match.
Here, “unexpected” translates to the realm of ideas. For an hour every week, host Manoush Zomorodi narrates some of the big ideas TED speakers explore, with snippets from thought-leaders who are tackling digital manipulation, creativity, altruism, or humane city planning. With well over 150 episodes to spark conversation among car passengers, TED Radio Hour is a surefire way to pass the time.
It’s a bit of a slow burn, but once The Left Right Game gets its hooks into you, there’s no turning it off. We open in the hospital with a young man, who was injured in a car accident and is spending his convalescence telling the story of his former classmate Alice. She was a young, enigmatic woman who disappeared playing what we discover is a game-slash-urban legend called the Left Right Game. You play by, you guessed it, turning left and then right, over and over, until you land in a supernatural world. Only, this time, something’s very wrong. Warning for road-trippers: The storyline features some car crash audio, so keep that in mind as you listen.
Alumni of comedy group Upright Citizens Brigade created and perform in this improvised, sometimes NSFW sci-fi sitcom set in space, now in its fifth season. Join Ambassador Pleck Decksetter and his ragtag team as they explore the Zyxx Quadrant on their diplomatic missions. The first episode made me laugh out loud in the first five minutes, and it’s my go-to whenever I need a bit of comic relief.
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. Now, download that same wonderful voice and listen to his podcast, in its sixth season. Every week, he selects a short story he loves and reads it. Need we say more?
Sometimes you just need a gripping, but fictional, mystery to get you through a long trip. Enter Blood Ties, which revolves around siblings Eleanor and Michael grappling with shocking revelations about their surgeon father in the aftermath of his supposed death in a plane crash. As they dig into their parents’ lives and their father’s empire, the siblings discover that neither was what they seemed. Nervous flyers might want to save this one for their next road trip.
Ostensibly, this is a podcast about documentaries. Each week, comedian Tig Notaro and actress Cheryl Hines (best known for her recurring role as Cheryl David on Curb Your Enthusiasm) select a documentary to watch and review. And each week, Tig and Cheryl go wildly off the rails as they “review” the documentary—past selects included Tiger King, Honeyland, and Framing Britney Spears—veering into Cheryl’s childhood in Florida, random tangents on garage sales, which characters they were attracted to, and so much more. It’s like getting a front-row seat to the pair’s friendship—and a strange, very funny Cliff Notes version of the world’s best documentaries. Is it educational? Mmm, kinda. Will it make you giggle for miles? Absolutely.
The long-running podcast has ended, but there are more than 270 episodes in the archives, which should keep you company for, oh, about a year. During their tenure, comedians Jacquis Neal and Edgar Momplaisir tackled CULTURE: quarantine fashion, Twitter beefs, and the all-important question of what’s the right way to eat a taco? Helping them along are their guests, often comedians and celebrities, like Nicole Byer and Priscilla Davies. The show is funny, yes, but Neal and Momplaisir also get deep and empathetic. Want to keep the party going? Check out Jacquis’s new reality TV podcast, The Cast with Rae and Jacquis.
In fall 2018, Team Coco and the crew at Earwolf began a quest to collect some real friends for Conan. How, you ask? By inviting people he enjoys talking to onto his new podcast, aptly titled Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, during which he talks to them some more (usually for about 45 to 60 minutes). What do his guests think about this ploy? David Sedaris feels apprehensive, Lisa Kudrow feels tired, Michelle Obama feels cautiously optimistic, and Lin-Manuel Miranda feels great. To find out how the rest feel, tune in.
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Yes, there are two Tig Notaro podcasts on this list—and for good reason. In Don’t Ask Tig Instead of “reviewing” documentaries, Tig 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.). Tig and her guest of the week—ranging from comedians such as Michelle Buteau and Nicole Byer to political figures and talk show hosts, such as Andrew Yang and Sunny Hostin, respectively—attempt to answer them. Tig caps each episode with a bit, including “Name That Thing,” in which they name a listener’s dog, houseplant, farm, and more.
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, like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and in this most recent season, everything Tyler Perry. The critiques are legit, as are the frequent and funny riffs.
Another culture podcast, this one helmed by comedians Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang. Each of the 250-plus episodes opens with the signature “Ding Dong, Las Culturistas calling,” before moving into a sassy 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 phenomenon). Most episodes feature a guest, such as Bob the Drag Queen, Sam Sanders, and Nikki Glaser, and all end with Rogers and Yang singing—somewhat cohesively.
A product of the Los Angeles Times, Asian Enough explores what it means to be Asian American. Each week, the four hosts—all Times writers—engage with a different personality, from politicians (Kamala Harris!) to celebrities (Margaret Cho!). Guests share their lives and identities, unpacking what it means to be Asian American at this specific moment in time. Season two premiered in May 2021 and runs through August.
It’s an Amazon podcast, so keep in mind that you’ll need to log in using your account, but music nerds rejoice: The First One explores behind-the-scenes stories of musicians’ greatest hits. Your host is none other than DJ Khaled, the rapper, mogul, and record executive. The roughly 45-minute episodes feature 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.
Bustle contributing editor and host Alicia Menendez welcomes Latinas like comedian Cristela Alonzo, actor Gina Rodriguez, and UN 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.
If I had to pick someone spearheading the next generation of NPR talent who manages to tackle complex conversations at the intersection of news and pop culture, Sam Sanders would be it. Formerly a cohost of NPR’s Politics podcast, the charming Sanders drops multiple episodes of It’s Been a Minute a week. Episodes are fun and laid-back (like a segment that airs real listeners calling in about the best thing that happened to them that week) while still being thought-provoking and timely.
Actor Dax Shepard’s breakout podcast launched in February 2018 and quickly gained a devoted following of “Armcherries.” In Armchair Expert, Shepard invites friends and fellow celebs (guests include Alicia Keys, Katie Couric, Van Hunt, and Judd Apatow, to name a few) to talk about the messiness of being human. Each episode is long (the very first episode with his wife Kristen Bell, which got me hooked, clocked in at two hours), so depending on where you’re driving, one episode might be all you need. Frank (and explicit) discussions of sex, mental illness, and failure make for honest—if not kid-friendly—listening.
This podcast, from author Roxane Gay and sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom, is “the Black feminist podcast of your dreams.” What does that mean? The pair interview powerful women about powerful topics: Ava DuVernay talks about how she juggles art and social justice work; Gabrielle Union explores bigotry in Hollywood; painter Jordan Casteel shares the pain of misattribution (she was misidentified as the painter of Michelle Obama’s portrait in a big New York Times profile). They’re honest, essential conversations for our times. Note that it’s a Luminary Original, meaning nonsubscribers can only listen to excerpts on other platforms.
The podcasting space still has a lot of gaps to fill when it comes to younger listeners, but this one fits the bill. From Tinkercast, and supported by NPR, Wow in the World is an educational kids’ show cohosted by media veterans Guy Raz and 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. I suspect Ms. Frizzle would approve of this podcast, which seems best suited for elementary grades.
Soon after city girl Chloe Lovejoy arrives in California to live with her garden-loving Grandma Ivy, she discovers Ivy isn’t any regular grandmother. In fact, Ivy is really Mother Nature herself—and her environmental responsibilities are inherited. In this 10-part season—the first in the “Natureverse” saga—Chloe learns a lot about the environment and the power of heritage. The much-anticipated season two debuted in February 2021.
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.
When Prince Rupert goes on a quest to save his kingdom from an encroaching magical forest, he doesn’t expect to team up with his royal rival Prince Amir to defeat a mystical curse—and neither anticipated falling in love with each other in the process. With a playful and tightly written script, and a voice cast that includes actors like Noah Galvin (Dear Evan Hansen), Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Christine Baranski (The Good Wife), listeners of middle grades and above will want to go along on the two seasons of adventures The Two Princes present.
The makers of Six Minutes recently debuted this new sci-fi podcast, ideal for preteens. Set in the future, the podcast revolves around two characters, Preen and Sav, who discover a way to communicate with kids, known as Pastlings, in the year 2020. Preen and Sav reach out to Pastlings for help dealing with issues like social media, consumerism, and status—perfect for not-so-young children grappling with issues of the real world.
Though the title says “for Rebel Girls,” don’t be fooled. 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. There are also three-minute “minisodes” where the credit readers (i.e., kiddos) interview the readers, who give advice about tackling challenges and how to be a successful rebel girl.
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No adults are allowed on this podcast featuring stories from tweens and teens. Mic Drop episodes are short (around 10 minutes) and straight from the mouths of teens. Eli and Adam, brothers and members of the Umatilla, Cayuse, Nez Perce, and Walla Walla Nations, share their similarities and differences, what it’s like to hunt for their own food, and the beauty of drumming and singing in powwows in the Pacific Northwest. Sophia, a fifth grader (and author of The Bug Girl), reveals her love of the insect world, which was cool at first among her classmates, but as she got older became a cause for bullying. Stories feel unfiltered in a sweet and honest way. Best for those age 9 to 13.
Aspiring gumshoes will want to check out this new podcast, which started in late 2019 and puts listeners in the role of detective. Listeners learn the facts of each case and suspects’ motivations through scenes and interrogations. At the end of each episode, the narrator reveals the real culprit and what crime the story was loosely inspired by. Will you be able to solve the whodunit?
This Peabody Award–winning podcast, expertly reported by Madeleine Baran and a crew from American Public Media, doesn’t just delve into the tawdry details of a crime. It inspects how law enforcement impacts national narratives of something like child abduction (as in season one, which investigates the mishandling of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling’s 1989 disappearance) or whether a justice system is really working if the same man is tried six different times for the same crime (as in season two). In the Dark is currently airing a limited-run series about life in the Mississippi Delta during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of December 2020, reporting for the highly anticipated season 3 is underway.
One of the internet’s favorite podcasts since its debut in 2016, My Favorite Murder is a true-crime podcast—that manages to be funny. Comedians and lifelong true-crime fans Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark discuss murders, true-crime tales, and survivors’ accounts and bring levity to otherwise grisly topics. Listen for the stories but mostly for Kilgariff and Hardstark’s banter. Episodes also include their live shows, which sell out worldwide. In 2019 they also released their memoir, Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered.
Just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in Ciudad Juárez, hundreds of women have been murdered in a disturbing and highly specific way. All of the women 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 explore the mystery of who and what might be behind the murders—and why they’ve remained unsolved, sometimes for decades. It’s horrific, at times, to hear the stories, but even more horrific that these women have for so long remained forgotten. This podcast gives them a voice.
This six-part podcast explores men and women who have been wrongfully incarcerated—it’s the audio accompaniment to the ABC drama For Life, a fictional series inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr., who was wrongfully convicted himself in 1991. During his time in prison, Wright became a paralegal and helped overturn the incorrect convictions of dozens of his fellow inmates, before finally proving his own innocence. Now he hosts the podcast, which each week tells the story of a different individual, how they fought to prove their innocence (sometimes for decades), and how they faced life with grace and purpose once they were finally released.
If you just want to escape into the wild and crazy lives of the richest families in history, tune into Even the Rich. Each season (typically three to five episodes) focuses on a different celebrity or dynasty, from JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette to Jay-Z and Beyoncé to England’s royal women (Diana, Kate, and Meghan). Hosts Aricia Skidmore-Williams and Brooke Siffrinn go far beyond the gossip, offering richly reported, conversational, and fascinating insight into the lives of modern royalty.
Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer played coworkers Angela and Pam on NBC’s popular sitcom, The Office. Now, the IRL best friends are taking Office fans on the ultimate series rewatch ride. Starting with the series pilot, Fischer and Kinsey are working their way chronologically through the entire TV show. Listen to never-before-shared anecdotes about filming each episode (Jim’s teapot note to Pam, revealed!) and hear from special guests who were part of the cast and crew, including showrunner Greg Daniels. This podcast is best binged for folks who have seen The Office, available streaming on Netflix until 2021.
Long before Titanic, director James Cameron was a sci-fi nerd with a dream of breaking into Hollywood. Blockbuster recreates Cameron’s life from the movie that galvanized him—Star Wars—to his first studio job, to yes, the iconic years he devoted to Titanic (he made several dangerous dives to actually film the wreckage of the ship). Actor Ross Marquand, of The Walking Dead and Avengers: Endgame, stars as Cameron, making this feel like the movie version of the director’s unlikely life.
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 stories including Victor and Alma, who founded the Green Book, and 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.
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. Biologists, archaeologists, astrophysicists, and other experts weigh in. Another plus? It’s family friendly.
The title says it all. In Stuff You Missed in History Class, hosts Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey share all the stories about, well, stuff you missed in history class. (OK, fine, maybe it just wasn’t on the test.) Care to learn about the gutsy women who helped with war efforts during the Battle of Gettysburg? The largest workers’ strike in Canadian history? Even the history of doughnuts? Download a batch for the road and you’ll be set for miles.
Named for a line in Langston Hughes’s poem “Let America Be America Again,” this podcast retells American history. Hosts Chenjerai Kumanyika, Loretta Williams, and John Biewen gather to present history that often gets left out of the books and to interview personalities, journalists, and activists such as Nikole Hannah-Jones and the late John Lewis. Season four, the latest, focuses on democracy in the United States: As you fly or drive, you can revisit the American Revolution, explore the cracks in the Constitution, and process the inescapable comingling of sexism and racism.
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 Ice Pick Surgeon, the story of Walter Jackson Freeman II, the physician who developed the lobotomy.
This story originally published online on May 22, 2018; it was updated in July 2019, May 20, 2020, and May 28 2021 to include current information.
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