Brain Voyage: 15 Best Podcasts For Road Trips

Apr 5, 2019

Category: Entertainment

Hopping on a plane and flying to a destination of your choice can be an excellent yet often expensive way to see parts of the world you might otherwise not be able to reach. But we know people can forget that there’s plenty of stuff to see here on the ground between where you are and where you want to be. As such, we encourage anyone with the means to skip the air travel and embark on a road trip every so often.

Of course, no matter how beautiful your surroundings, long drives can be a bit trying and boring. And while the best albums of all time can help get you over the hump now and again, sometimes we prefer more mental stimulation. Sure, you could pay for some audio books — but there are also a wealth of podcasts (downloadable or streamable radio shows) that are just as, if not more interesting than said books. Better still, podcasts are often offered free of charge. We’ve rounded up 15 of the best — from astrophysical anthologies to serialized true crime — here on our list of the best podcasts for road trips.

99% Invisible

We’ve heard it said that, if you’re doing your job right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all. But that doesn’t mean all your hard work isn’t deserving of recognition. And that’s pretty much what the 99% Invisible podcast is all about: the stories and intricacies of the most seldom-noticed parts of our world. Across hundreds of episodes, this anthology series details architecture, infrastructure, technology, and more in a way that illuminates that which we too-frequently take for granted. Whether you want to know what makes blue jeans blue, how those flailing inflatable tube men outside used car lots came to be, or what the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is — you can find it all out in these interesting and easy-to-digest episodes. And they don’t need to be kept in any particular order, making it easy to jump from one topic that interests you to another without feeling like you’re missing anything.

No. Of Episodes: 347
Genre: Non-Fiction, Technology
Format: Anthology

Listen: 99% Invisible

Art Of Manliness

For years, the Tulsa-based Art of Manliness has been a one-stop online destination for all things, well, manly. But what you might not know is that their vast catalog of articles has also been translated beautifully into a long-running podcast — which is especially enticing for those of us with long commutes or a preference for audio. It’s hard to pin down the genre of this particular listen, as the topics can vary wildly from one to the next. For instance, the most recent entry is about making the most of your time, whereas the entry before it details the life and times of one of WWII’s greatest tank gunners. One thing is for sure, though: each and every episode is a riveting and fresh take, even when they’re on subjects you might have heard of before.

No. Of Episodes: 495
Genre: Non-Fiction, Lifestyle
Format: Anthology

Listen: AOM

The Habitat

Humanity has finally reached the point where putting a person on Mars is a viable possibility some of us might actually live to see. And while that in itself is plenty exciting, it’s a prospect for which the folks at NASA have been preparing for quite some time. In fact, on a remote Hawaiian island, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration set up a mock-Mars habitat and had six volunteers secluded there over the course of a full year — with the intention of learning exactly what it might be like, both mentally and physically, for people to live alone on an inhospitable alien planet. Of course, it’s one thing to hear the dry details of the experiment and another entirely to hear the story told by the people who lived through it. That’s what this podcast is all about: the true chronicle of colonizing a fake planet like a real sci-fi adventure.

No. Of Episodes: 7
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Format: Serialized

Listen: The Habitat

History On Fire

There are a lot of historical podcasts. And when we say a lot, we mean dozens or more. With such a crowded space, it can be hard for one to stand out from the rest of the pack. Thanks to the wealth of knowledge, dedication, and fearlessness of university history professor and host, Daniele Bolelli, History On Fire manages just that. This is not a podcast for the weak of heart. In fact, if you’re traveling with children, it’s probably better to look elsewhere. That’s because History On Fire pulls no punches, outlining some of the most heinous, violent, sexual, magnificent, and emotionally intense moments in human history. And while the subject matter is a bit on the dark side (much of the time), the stories are told beautifully and in great detail — making this an easy binge-worthy listen that’s perfect for road trips. For a unique take on historical events, both well-known and rarely-told, go no further.

No. Of Episodes: 46
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Format: Anthology

Listen: HOF

How I Built This

If you’re the type of person who enjoys shows like Shark Tank or How It’s Made, then How I Built This should be a podcast that’s right up your alley. In each episode, host Guy Raz dives deep into the stories of some of the world’s best-known companies. But he doesn’t do it alone — Raz also enlists the help of the founders of those companies to tell their tales in deep and personal details. With episodes that range from 40 minutes to well over an hour — and an episode count that’s already over the century mark — this expansive series is excellent for business buffs, those looking for inspiration, and even folks who have found themselves in a bit of a rut. The latter of which should pay especially close attention, as these stories are not exclusively about great successes, but also the tremendous and numerous failures that came before those successes.

No. Of Episodes: 107
Genre: Non-Fiction, Business
Format: Anthology

Listen: HIBT

My Favorite Murder

If there’s one non-fiction genre favored amongst those who listen to podcasts, it’s got to be true crime. Yet, while most of the space is laden with deadpan retellings of some of the worst violent crimes in history, My Favorite Murder stands apart for their comedic approach. And we have to credit the tongue-in-cheek attitudes of hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark for the podcast’s tremendous success. Granted, they know how to keep the tone serious when necessary, but the lighter take on humanity’s gruesome side certainly explains why this is consistently one of the top-ranked podcasts in the world — true crime, comedy, or otherwise. It’s also a good deal less problematic than another once-top contender for the true crime crown, Sword & Scale, which was recently axed by the Wondery network for host Mike Boudet’s long history of misconduct.

No. Of Episodes: 166
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime, Comedy
Format: Anthology

Listen: MFM

Myths & Legends

For generations, humanity has been telling stories about people, creatures, and places that are all greater than ourselves and our reality. Some of those stories have lived on and still seep into popular culture to this day. Others have gone by the wayside, barely hanging on at the fringes of society or having been virtually forgotten altogether. Whatever the case, even if you’ve heard the legends before, you probably don’t know the whole story. That’s where host Jason Weiser comes in; he tracks down the origins of these legendary people, places, creatures, and objects and gets to the bottom of the original tales, illuminating them with in-depth, well-researched details of which you might not otherwise be aware. For the most part, the series is anthological in its style, with single episodes for each story — though there are multi-part ones when the story requires a more comprehensive telling. And each one is bookended by a look at a mythical creature, which functions as a nice palate cleanser before the next episode starts. If you like dragons, ancient warriors, witches, and warlocks, Myths & Legends is for you.

No. Of Episodes: 139
Genre: Fiction, Mythology
Format: Anthology

Listen: M&L

Serial

By now, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of the Serial podcast, as it is not only one of the most popular in the world, but it has actually had a ripple effect across other parts of the entertainment world and even spurred the reopening of the Adnan Syed case — the story they tackled in their inaugural season. What you might not know, however, is that they’ve already come out with another two seasons since then done in a similar serialized style (as the podcast’s name suggests). If you’re more interested in a season-spanning story you can dive deep into on a long road trip — as opposed to quicker, more easily digestible anthology episodes — Serial might be just the ticket for you. It is worth noting, however, that Serial has been slammed in the press for being too one-sided. But if you can get past that and approach it knowingly, there’s plenty of value to be gathered. For fans of Netflix’s original series Making A Murderer, this is your stop.

No. Of Episodes: 32
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Format: Serialized

Listen: Serial

Sidedoor

There are over 154 million objects housed inside the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. And every single one of those objects has a story to tell. Of course, not all of us can just mosey on down to the Smithsonian whenever we want to check things out — and even fewer folks are even granted access to the vaults. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Sidedoor, which is actually run by the Smithsonian, is a podcast that illuminates unique tales from said vaults in great detail. In fact, a good deal of these stories are ones you simply cannot hear anywhere else. As it stands right now, there are three seasons of varying length — with subjects that range from the pranking habits of Abraham Lincoln, to headbutting dinosaurs, to the curse of the Hope Diamond, and a good deal more. Clocking in at around 30 minutes per episode, this binge-worthy road trip podcast is one of our favorites.

No. Of Episodes: 51+
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Format: Anthology

Listen: Sidedoor

Star Talk

It isn’t often that a person from the scientific community becomes a mainstream celebrity, but that’s exactly what happened with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Don’t let the name fool you, however — this road trip-worthy podcast is not all about space and the greater universe. Rather, it covers the intersections of science, pop culture, and comedy. And each episode features a different person of interest. Sometimes it’s a noteworthy scientist, other times it is a comedian, and Tyson has even made a way for others to host the show when his expertise is of lesser value. One of the biggest benefits of this podcast, especially when it comes to long road trips, is that there are so many episodes, you could probably drive around the circumference of the United States and still have more to listen to. If you come from the Bill Nye generation, this is the podcast for you.

No. Of Episodes: 300+
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science
Format: Anthology

Listen: Star Talk

Stuff You Missed In History Class

Recorded history spans a great many centuries and concerns so very many events that even those who have dedicated their lives to the subject still have so much to learn. That being the case, there are a lot of things that slip through the cracks. It’s not that they aren’t important or interesting; it’s just that there’s only so much the public school systems, television programs, and word-of-mouth stories can cover. That’s where SYMIHC comes into play. This frankly daunting podcast focuses on the stories you haven’t heard — tales of people, places, and events lost to the mainstream. Sometimes it’s records of marginalized people not recognized by the ruling (and therefore history-writing) class. Other times it details of occurrences that fell by the wayside due to larger world events. Whatever the case, each episode is bursting with unique information any history buff will be happy to hear.

No. Of Episodes: 300+
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Format: Anthology

Listen: SYMIHC

Stuff You Should Know

The HowStuffWorks network (both in print and in audio) is vast in its scope. So vast, in fact, that they offer over 50 different podcasts. But the one that encompasses their scope the best is probably Stuff You Should Know (SYSK, for short). If you find yourself a bit of a renaissance man and you’re not looking for a road trip podcast that’s too focused, this is the place for you. With no particular rhyme or reason to how they pick their episodes, this freewheeling audio adventure covers one of the widest ranges of subjects out there. And while that lack of focus certainly seems dauntingly expansive, each episode is beautifully researched and makes for an enjoyable and educational experience. If you’re the type of person who can never decide what they want to eat for dinner, this podcast is right up your alley.

No. Of Episodes: 300+
Genre: Non-Fiction
Format: Anthology

Listen: SYSK

Unexplained

Aaron Mahnke’s Lore is a hugely popular podcast that explores the darker side of mythology, focusing on the eerie, macabre, and dastardly. But as it has increased in popularity and expanded into a book series and television show, the podcast itself has somewhat suffered from a lack of focus. As such, we’ve found ourselves turning instead to Unexplained, which follows a similar format — outlining in intricate details true events that, to this day, remain, well, unexplained. Aided by the soothing, accented voice of Scottish-English host Richard MacLean Smith (a self-proclaimed Twilight Zone fanatic), this spooky podcast might just be the best listen for anyone who enjoys scares, ghost stories, or just a good old-fashioned mystery.

No. Of Episodes: 81
Genre: Non-Fiction, Mystery
Format: Anthology

Listen: Unexplained

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

Topical podcasts, especially those that concern the news, are a tough sell when it comes to road trips. It’s not that they’re not well-done or informative, it’s just that they quickly go the way of old news. But where traditional news-focused podcasts fail to remain interesting over the course of time, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! remains an easy listen, thanks to the gameshow-style format and comedic approach. With a panel of characters that includes the likes of Mo Rocca, Paula Poundstone, Tom Bodett (a voice you’ll recognize from those old Motel 6 commercials), host Peter Sagal, and announcer Carl Kasell — each week welcomes a different celebrity guest who’s recorded in front of a live studio audience. Part newscast, part game show, and part topical humor panel discussion, this show is great for a laugh on those long stretches of road.

No. Of Episodes: 300+
Genre: Non-Fiction, Comedy
Format: Anthology

Listen: Wait Wait

The Way I Heard It

Having worked as an opera singer, QVC Shopping Channel host, and self-proclaimed chronic freelancer, Mike Rowe has had a long and interesting life. But he’s probably best known for his time hosting the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs — in which he illuminated the lives of hard-working, blue-collar people around the world. He continues in that no-nonsense tradition, albeit in a somewhat different medium, through his The Way I Heard It podcast. Made up of short 10-minute episodes, each entry tells — in as straightforward and true a fashion as possible — the story of a person, place, or thing of interest. It’s not buttered-up and there’s little in the way of unnecessary exposition, but that’s exactly what makes this such an excellent podcast. For the no-frills listener, you can’t do better.

No. Of Episodes: 129
Genre: Non-Fiction
Format: Anthology

Listen: TWIHI

15 Best Cars For Road Trips

While lining up your podcasts are a good idea, you’re not gonna make it very far if you don’t have a vehicle. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up the best road trip cars available for purchase right now.

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