When I go on road trips I start off beaming with excitement for all the things I’ve planned to do. All those big plans will come, but there’s a lot of open road between here and there. The excitement can quickly fade if you’re not keeping your mind occupied while you’re on a long stretch of highway with nothing to look at.
I listen to podcasts in the car more often than I listen to music these days. Traffic jams are my least favorite thing on the road, but even heavy traffic doesn’t annoy me when I’m listening to something that engages me. There’s just so much content out there and even if you have a 20-minute drive you can learn something. Long drives are the perfect opportunity to put on some long-form interviews or listen to a series of one-hour shows. From fictional content to video game reviews to political discourse, there’s honestly something for everyone. I’m going to share a few of my favorites.
This American Life
This might be one of the most well-known and popular podcasts and for good reason. Ira Glass has been doing this show for over 20 years for radio and the content has been quality the whole time. The themes can range from a very personal story of one person’s life to an embedded reporter talking to a career senator about why she is leaving government work. Even the most unlikely topic is made relatable and crafted beautifully by skilled reporters. The most recent 4 episodes are always available to download for free, but the full 600+ episode archive is available on the This American Life app for only $2.99. It’s definitely worth it for all the great content, and it supports the show continuing on. I’d suggest a favorite episode, but honestly just pick one that sounds interesting. I promise you it will be.
Another NPR podcast, this one often investigates scientific ideas and makes them easy to understand. Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich talk to experts on myriad topics to dissect grand ideas like the structure of language or how the Supreme Court was formed. If you’re interested in things like this I would suggest starting with the episodes “Time” and “Numbers.” Two things that seem so simple will blow your mind.
The Tim Ferriss Show
Tim Ferriss is known for his book, The 4-Hour Workweek as well as other books, and his podcast is just as inspiring. He talks to people in business, tech, entertainment, and really any other area who are at the top of their game, and he dissects their methods to find out how they became successful and how they stay that way. As a big fan of stand-up comedy I really enjoyed the Mike Birbiglia episode. The techniques he discussed really have changed the way I work on writing. There’s something for everyone on this podcast, and I can assure you you’ll learn from it.
This show began as two guys talking about internet ephemera and has turned into one of my favorite shows with deep stories. PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman joke around a lot. They have a segment where their boss brings them a tweet he doesn’t understand, and they proceed to explain it to him while laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing. On the flip side they recently did a story where Alex travels to India to track down a call center who contacted him in an attempt to scam him for money. It’s a great balance of good reporting and fun antics.
Staying informed about world events isn’t always easy on the road, so I like listening to this NPR podcast that is released every weekday. It gives a succinct report of the most important news stories you should be aware of without going too in-depth.
Dan Savage has his Savage Love advice column in newspapers around the country, and this podcast is an extension of that. People call in, ask questions about love, sex, and relationships, and Dan answers them in his singular decisive voice. It’s more fun than anything else. Maybe you can learn something or you can take solace in knowing other people have worse relationship issues than you.
Women of the Hour
Lena Dunham talks with women who have inspired her as well as some of her friends and co-workers who also fit that description. The topics range from abuse to creative techniques for writing. It’s very much just a chat show most of the time, but the topics are engaging and keep you interested.
This show makes you think. Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller, and Hanna Rosin explore invisible forces that shape our lives; emotions, beliefs, assumptions, and a slew of brain science that they cut through to make everyone understand. It’s a light show for such heavy topics, and I always finish an episode wanting to sit with the information and think about it a while longer. Check out the episode “Emotions” for a very… emotional story of a court case that takes a turn you won’t expect.
Stuff You Should Know
This is the podcast that got me into listening to podcasts. Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant tackle anything and everything that they find interesting. That’s anything from LSD to impeachment to Jim Henson. They talk about everything, and they make it fun. The best part of the show is the relationship between Josh and Chuck. It feels like you’re hanging out with your friends who just happen to know everything about bat feces and want to tell you about it. They digress often, but it’s endearing, and that has become my favorite part of the show. I would pick one episode to suggest, but they’re almost all fantastic. Check it out!
WTF with Marc Maron – Comedian Marc Maron chats with other comedians, actors, and even President Obama.
The Nerdist – Long form interviews with people all over the entertainment industry.
TED Radio Hour – Expanded TED talks and interviews.
Blabbermouth – Dan Savage and friends discuss/yell about politics.
Under the Skin w/ Russell Brand – Brand discusses deep topics like slavery and identity with experts in those fields.
More Perfect – Jad Abumrad of Radiolab examines Supreme Court cases in depth.
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Besides helping to pass the time on the road and feeling like I learn things from podcasts they also often recommend documentaries, books, or other podcasts that further delve into topics I want to continue learning about. It sometimes turns into an endless list of things I’ll never get to, but it’s a great resource to start on a topic. These are just my favorites, but if you search I guarantee you can find a podcast suited to whatever niche topic you might want to hear about!
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