For all my friends and fellow travelers who’ve asked over the years, here is a list of the podcasts I always turn to on noisy Vietnamese trains and 23-hour Argentinian bus rides. Give them a listen, and let me know what you think.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – He makes people from history feel alive, from the Mongols to Martin Luther.
Highlights from Talking History – A brilliant Irish-led discussion of historical happenings with the scholars that study them.
Backstory – A really entertaining and eye-opening look at U.S. history.
Documentaries – The BBC’s long-form reports from every region of the world.
New Yorker Out Loud – Discussions with New Yorker writers about the world they cover.
Radiolab – Riveting sounds, science, and stories from NPR.
The World in Words – Reports about languages and words from around the world.
Coffee Break – The RadioLingua network has a plethora of great podcasts for learning languages; I’ve used CoffeeBreak French and German and am now completely fluent (or at least can order baguettes and currywurst).
A post about travel podcasts and there are no travel podcasts? The thing is, most travel-focused podcasts are dull. If I want to learn about Germany, I don’t want to listen to someone else talking about what they did and saw there — I want to do it myself while listening to something like Dan Carlin’s astonishing Thor’s Angels, which follows the Germanic people from when they were Ancient Rome’s brute garlic-eating tormentors. Travel is about society, culture, language, and history, so the above podcasts are just better than so-called ‘travel’ podcosts.
That said, Travel With Rick Steves has a few fantastic episodes (especially interviews with travel-writing greats like Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux), but tends to be geared towards middle-aged Americans oblivious to life outside of Kansas. I also listened to the Indie Travel Podcast for years, and will always have a place in my heart for Linda and Craig and their journeys, but it’s frankly hit or miss.