After over a year of isolation, wanderlust is swirling in the air, as many seek safe ways to re-emerge into the world with much-needed vacation or reunion trips. Whatever that re-emergence looks like for you, there’s definitely a podcast that can help heighten the experience.
But make no mistake: mid 2021 is certainly not the wholesale Back To Normal we might’ve hoped for, especially in countries and communities with low vaccination rates. The delta variant of COVID-19 is a real threat for the unvaccinated. The only way to move toward a true return to life before the pandemic is to increase vaccination rates around the globe.
With the right safety measures, though, vaccinated folks are now being given the green light to travel and reconnect with each other in person again. That also means you’re going to need travel-friendly entertainment to keep you company along the way.
As an audio-only medium that doesn’t require eyeballs or even WiFi to enjoy, podcasts make for ideal travel companions. Whether you’re getting to your destination via road trip, train, or airplane ride, a great podcast can make the boring parts of going on vacation more exciting. Even if you’re just taking time off to go on a local stay-cation or far-off hiking trail, you’ll have some free time to kill.
Whatever your travel plans may be, these podcasts can help you kick back, relax, and explore the big wide world. Just be sure to remember to pack your AirPods.
1. Atlas Obscura
What it is: This 15-minute daily travel podcast is home to all the world’s strangest, most unbelievable wonders. Host Dylan Thuras and other Atlas Obscura field reporters transport you to a variety of incredible places around the globe, be it a museum or ancient monument. Listen to the people, stories, and histories that make these amazing destinations ideal spots for the curious traveler.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Regain that sense of wanderlust that reminds us why every corner of the globe has a unique adventure worth exploring.
2. Stuff You Should Know
What it is: A favorite of many podcast listeners, the long-running Stuff You Should Know was so popular it spawned its own dedicated network (including other daily podcasts in a similar vein, like Stuff You Missed in History Class.) Since it covers everything under the sun, it’s important to note that hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant admit to not being experts on all these topics. Some with deep knowledge of certain subjects might even find their summaries frustratingly surface level. But they do a great job of at least sparking interest in a lot of important things we should all know about, which hopefully inspires listeners to research beyond what can be tackled in only an hour. [From our Best Daily Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: With an extensive and sweeping backlog, there’s a good chance they’ve covered a topic relevant to wherever you’re traveling to.
3. The Experiment
The American experiment, often repackaged as the American dream, is one of the biggest sources of miseducation in our country. In this WNYC Studios and Atlantic collaboration, host Julia Longoria applies the ideals of America’s past that were held to be self-evident, then measures them up against our current reality. Bringing the high ideals of this country’s founding to everyday experiences, The Experiment can even find lessons in trash reality TV shows like 90 Day Fiancé. [From our Best Educational Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Even if you’re a resident of the country you’re traveling through, there’s still so much to learn about the place we call home.
4. Blood Ties
What it is: Fiction podcasts are going through something of a renaissance lately, with Blood Ties as a great example of the genre’s evolution in the mainstream. While it isn’t “true” crime, the wildly popular mini-series scratches that same itch for an engrossing story. Follow Eleanore Richland (voiced by Community’s Gillian Jacobs) as her annual family vacation turns to catastrophe after her parents’ plane crashes under mysterious circumstances. While the story itself may not be real, the themes certainly apply to the real world, as Eleanore uncovers family secrets that test her ability to stay true to her morals even when it hurts her loved ones.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: It’s like a great crime thriller beach read, but for your ears.
5. Haunted Places
What it is: Each week Parcast’s Haunted Places takes you to the most cursed locations around the globe. From the White House to the Stanley Hotel, episodes begin with a cold-open narrative reenactment that grounds you in an experience of the haunting. After grabbing your attention, the host then steps back to explain the place’s history and the chilling tale of the notorious paranormal activity. Some weeks even additionally explore an urban legend, applying that same format for a deep dive into the scary stories we all grew up hearing. [From our Best Podcasts for Horror Fans roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: For those interested in exploring the darker parts of the world, this podcast will be your ultimate audio guide.
6. The Habitat
What it is: This is for those who want to escape to a different planet without getting too far away from home. At its essence, The Habitat is like if NASA did a season of Big Brother. Six contestants (aka volunteers) elect to participate in an experiment where they play the part of a crew of astronauts living on Mars. For a full year, these six strangers share very close quarters while simulating a space mission that’s actually stationed on a remote mountain in Hawaii. Host Lynn Levy takes us through their experiences using the audio diaries each had to log daily. It’s a mix of existential contemplations and some good-old-fashioned reality TV human drama. [From our Best Podcasts to Binge roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Because sometimes going on vacation to an earthly destination isn’t enough, and you need to visit a whole new planet instead.
7. Ringer Dish (Jam Session and Tea Time)
What it is: These two separate Ringer Network podcasts share the same feed because they cover similar territories, but each has a unique approach to covering the week’s celebrity and pop culture news. On Fridays, Tea Time hosts Liz Kelly, Kate Halliwell, and Amelia Wedemeyer catch you up on all the hottest goss gripping the web, whether in the form of relationship news or internet drama involving the rich and famous. Meanwhile Wednesdays are Jam Session‘s time to shine, with Ringer veterans Juliet Litman and Amanda Dobbins offering their deep dive analysis on more inside baseball news from the entertainment industry, royal family, and celebrity culture.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: If you enjoy reading celebrity gossip magazines on the beach or by the pool, these podcasts are like a much better, audio-only version of that.
8. Imaginary Worlds
What it is: Ironically, Eric Molinsky’s Imaginary Worlds — exploring fantasy and science fiction storytelling across all mediums — is one of the podcasts most firmly grounded in our real world. But that’s exactly what makes it so great. By diving into the real-world forces that underpin our most beloved fictional universes, Molinsky helps us grapple with crucial social issues ranging from fascism to racism. But it’s all done from the safe distance of make-believe. Escapism, he proves, is hardly ever about turning away from our harsh realities. If anything, it’s about seeing them from a different perspective, so we can learn something about our world, ourselves, and each other in the process.” [From our Best Podcasts for Escaping Reality roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Fueling your imagination is an essential part of having a great time off from work or school.
9. Here Be Monsters
What it is: Hosts Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton immerse you in the strange and unseen parts of our unknowable world. While most episodes are grounded in reality, each is a sumptuous soundscape of auditory hallucinations exploring the thin line between what’s real and imagined. [From our Best Podcasts to Fall Asleep To roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Getting lost in your own sense of wonder for the world’s many marvels, both small and large.
10. Podcast But Outside
What it is: The title is pretty self-explanatory, but the random strangers plucked from the streets to guest interview on this podcast are still usually very confused about what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into. LA-based comedians Andrew Michaan and Cole Hersch (who is a friend) bring the typically solitary indoor medium of podcasting into the great outdoors — or rather, a bunch of crowded city streets and one time even a wedding. It’s an improv comedy podcast that truly embraces chaos, as the hosts offer literally anyone who walks by $1 to sit down and chat about whatever. While it is indeed a podcast, there’s also a YouTube version and Instagram clips (some of which you might’ve caught on your TikTok For You Page), adding a great visual component to its internet humor vibe.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: An ambient improv comedy podcast that’s perfect for anyone whose forgotten why the unpredictability of being outdoors with a bunch of strangers can be fun.
11. Astonishing Legends
What it is: Covering everything from the paranormal to the historic, Astonishing Legends‘ Scott Philbrook and Forest Burgess feel like listening to your dad excitedly babble about some weird new thing he just got into. Long-winded and heart-warmingly earnest, their multi-part deep dives create a safe space for your mind to half-listen to thoroughly researched topics you’d never bother learning about on your own. [From our Best Podcasts to Fall Asleep To roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: A cross between the supernatural and historical, it’s a great way to educate yourself about local legends that are worth checking out in person.
What it is: From the first tinkling piano chords of this podcast’s intro music, you know you’re in good hands. Andrew Menke built a career around reviving and revisiting fables and legends, reminding listeners about the power of the oral storytelling tradition. [From our Best Podcasts to Fall Asleep To roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: One of the best ways to learn about a culture is through the folklore and stories that its people passed down generation after generation.
What it is: Not everyone can make it out to Washington, D.C. to visit one of America’s most renowned museums. Sidedoor is the podcast making the Smithsonian’s treasure trove of 154 million wonders more accessible than ever. Host Lizzie Peabody gives listeners behind-the-scenes peeks into the museums vaults, interviewing scientists, archaeologists, and historians on why these items and artifacts matter.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: No matter where you’re going, the Smithsonian is sure to have at least one piece of the place you’re visiting.
What it is: We all have that one regret — that one chance, moment, or act — that might’ve changed everything. But we just didn’t take it. Gimlet’s Jonathan Goldstein podcast is on a mission to chase down those “what if’s” in peoples lives, to help them get some closure if not definitive answers. From estranged family reunions to bumpy roads less traveled, each episode of Heavyweight follows one person’s journey in looking back with the hopes of moving forward. [From our Best Podcasts for Escaping Reality roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: A reminder of our common humanity that many of us probably need as we set out to reconnect with family and friends.
15. Root of Evil
What it is: This jaw-dropping and uniquely personal podcast investigates one of the most infamous murders in American history. Despite being a connoisseur of grisly true crime, I’ve never encountered anything like Root of Evil before. It left this murder aficionado both audibly gasping and uncontrollably weeping. Root of Evil is as much a first-hand account of devastating generational family trauma as it is a riveting investigation into the infamous Black Dahlia murder that rocked Los Angeles in 1947. Sisters Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile take us along on their journey to unravel the web of fatal lies and horrifying abuses that has haunted their family for decades. At the center of it all is George Hodel, with questions of not only his own evil but what being born into evil means for the innocent people raised by him. Don’t worry if you find the first couple of episodes hard to follow, because it’s all part of experiencing this disorienting family saga. [From our Best Podcasts to Binge roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: It’s not only an amazing true crime thriller, but also wades into the complex territory of coming home to family and revisiting your shared traumas.
16. Traveling the Greenbook
What it is: If your knowledge of the historic Green Book travel guide begins and ends with the 2019 Oscar-winning film, then buckle up for some much-needed education. If, on the other hand, you’re someone with the lived experiences of being Black while traveling across America, Driving the Green Book offers just as much essential insight. Join broadcaster Alvin Hall and social justice activist Janée Woods Weber on their road trip capturing the legacies and stories of Black travelers and the safe havens from the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, which helped so many navigate segregation-era America safely. Filled with uplifting celebrations and solemn tributes in equal measure, each episode explores a different avenue to understanding the history and legacy of the Black American traveler’s spirit.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Remembering shared history, and the privilege of being able to travel safely across America’s most treacherous paths.
17. Everything is Alive
What it is: As the title suggests, in this podcast everything — literally every thing — leads a fascinating life. In each 15-20 minute episode, host Ian Chillag interviews a different inanimate object about their existence. You’d think there wouldn’t be much to learn from a grain of sand or Sharpie. But with the help of talented guests improvising the sentience of said inanimate items, you leave every interview with a deep sense of the simultaneous absurdity and beauty of being alive in this world. [From our Best Podcasts for Escaping Reality roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: A touching yet still often hilarious exercise in seeing the humanity in everything.
18. Comedy Bang Bang
“If you’re looking for a classic comedy podcast with good improv, Comedy Bang Bang is the podcast for you. It began airing in 2009 and the podcast remains one of today’s great hubs where improv comedians can come and flex their skills. Host Scott Aukerman talks with an ever-rotating cast of talented improv comedians doing ridiculous characters, so you never know what might happen in any given episode. And Comedy Bang Bang is also a great way to learn about other amusing podcasts, so you it might help you find your next listen.” [From our Best Comedy Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Laughs are guaranteed, even if you’re tuning in and out.
What it is: Let’s be real: Many of us skipped the reading when we were in school, only to regret it later on. That’s why Spotify’s list of original audiobooks, some even voiced by A-list actors like Hilary Swank, is a great treasure trove of educational audio. Currently, it offers many of the classics for free, like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. They even have a separate podcast for unpacking the literature called Sitting with the Classics. You can check out the full collection here. [From our Best Educational Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Catching up on your summer reading.
20. Erotic Audio
What it is: Erotic Audio
What it is: Short, 10-minute excerpts of audio erotica stories for women.
Why it’s great: We here at Mashable love audio porn. But if you’re not in a place where you can afford subscription-based audio erotica apps like Quinn or Dipsea, we highly recommend the short, free samples of sexy stories on Erotic Audio. They’re geared toward women and couples, narrated by British actors and often told from a first or second-person POV. However be warned that these are roughly 10-minute excerpts best used to learn whether audio erotica works for you and what you specifically like. You’ll have to go to Audiodesires website and pay for the full finish. [From our Best Sex Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Kick off your Hot Vax Summer 2021 with some self-love explorations.
21. Coffee Break Spanish (or other languages)
What it is: Not everyone vibes with language learning apps like Duolingo. Alternatively, what’s great about podcasts like Coffee Break from Radio Lingua Network is just how casual it feels — digestible enough to compliment your coffee break (as the name suggests). The lesson plans in each successive season increase in difficulty, with Season 1 being for true beginners. But the podcast really sings in its travel log episodes, applying those lessons to a conversational grasp of the language. There’s also versions in French, Italian, German, Chinese, and Swedish available too.” [From our Best Educational Podcasts roundup]
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Learning even the basics of a local language is the least tourists can do while visiting a foreign culture.
22. Armchair Explorer
What it is: There are a lot of reasons to travel, but stories are often at the center of what makes an enduring adventure last beyond just one lifetime. In Armchair Explorer, travel journalist Aaron Millar interviews a variety of different world-class adventurers every week, putting together thrilling documentary-style audio logs that immerse you in the most incredible feats of human history and exploration.
Why it’s great for vacation or travel: Transporting you to the most exciting places and moments a traveler could ever hope for.