Podcasts: A Traveler's Best Friend

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If you're anything like me, you know how important it is to be preoccupied during long distance travels in order to pass the time. I unfortunately cannot read while moving or I get motion sickness, so if I want to be entertained, I need my computer or tablet or phone. Problem is, it's really easy to kill battery life on a long haul flight, or an overnight train. On our last trip, our average travel time from each location was 12 hours (some trips being much longer). We found a really fun solution when we became addicted to podcasts. They were incredibly interesting and kept us entertained for hours!

The best part was, with a headphone splitter, we could listen to them together; only using one device's battery at a time.

On Apple devices, the podcast app comes with your iPhone. You may have never even used it before. On Android phones, there are multiple apps you can use to stream and download podcasts (you can read more here about which apps are best for Android users). To save the most battery, you can pick a handful of episodes to download while you are in wi-fi before you depart. Then playback is very easy on your battery.

Podcasts come as series or as individual episodes. Some tell an ongoing story, others feature new topics and discussions each week. Some are fictional and are reminiscent of radio programs from the old days. Some are talk shows with interesting guests. And others are educational, thought provoking episodes that tackle lifestyle, science, politics, and pretty much any topic you can think of.

If you're new to podcasts, I'd recommend checking the top charts section of the podcast app and check out podcasts that seem like they might interest you. This is also a great way to learn about new ones.

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Here are some of our favorite podcasts:

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1. Radiolab

"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."

The show focuses on topics of a scientific and philosophical nature. Radiolab tackles broad, difficult topics such as "time" and "morality" in an entertaining and interesting style. Super thought-provoking! Warning: Listening to Radiolab can bring about bouts of existentialism and an intense need for deep conversations until the sun comes up!

 

Favorite episodes: 

  • What's Left When You're Right? (Season 12): More often than not, a fight is just a fight... Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.
  • Playing God (Season 15): When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? Maybe you save the youngest. Or the sickest. Maybe you even just put all the names in a hat and pick at random. Would your answer change if a sick person was standing right in front of you? In a warzone, a hurricane, a church basement, and an earthquake, the question remains the same. What happens, what should happen, when humans are forced to play god?
  • Things (Season 12): From a piece of the Wright brother's plane to a child’s sugar egg, today: Things! Important things, little things, personal things, things you can hold and things that can take hold of you. This hour, we investigate the objects around us, their power to move us, and whether it's better to look back or move on, hold on tight or just let go.
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2. Hidden Brain

"The Hidden Brain project helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships."

This show is a shorter form podcast, averaging 20-30 minutes. Host Shankar Vedantam (say that three times fast) is very fun and asks questions you'd never think to ask about yourself and human behavior.

Favorite episodes: 

  • When It Comes to Our Politics, Family Matters (Episode 44): Democrats and Republicans often have trouble seeing one another's perspectives. Researchers think this might be driven in part by their earliest experience of power — the family.
  • Resolutions (Episode 17): Using social science, Shankar helps a coworker to quit smoking, for good and discusses how to stick to our guns when we make resolutions.
  • Terrorism (Episode 13): What draws people to terrorism? What propels them to commit mass murder?  This episode looks at the social and psychological drivers behind international terrorism, and why our best efforts to prevent radicalization so often fail.
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3. Invisibilia

"Invisibilia is Latin for "the invisible things." We explore the invisible forces that shape human behavior — things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions."

Similar to Hidden Brain, Invisibilia touches on topics about behavior and the human condition. These longer episodes are great time killers, and they keep you engrossed the whole time.

Favorite episodes:

  • The Power of Categories (Feb 6, 2015): This episode examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. This show looks at what categories provide for us.
  • Fearless (Jan 16, 2015): What would happen if you could disappear fear? We'll hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear. The second half of the show explores how the rest of us might "turn off" fear.
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4. This American Life

"There's a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme. Most of the stories are journalism, with an occasional comedy routine or essay."

This American Life is storytelling at it's best; crafted to be like "movies for radio" but with the integrity of a documentary. This American Life is the most popular podcast in the U.S. and has a radio show archive that goes back to 1995, so there's a ton of content to enjoy!

 

Favorite episodes:

  • Death and Taxes (Episode 523): It is a peculiar feeling to know with certainty that something big is about to happen to you. This week we watch people go right up to the edge of inevitable change. We hear from preteens about the terrifying knowledge that puberty is about to happen...any minute now. And true to the death and taxes saying, we found it unavoidable to include a story about each one of those things.
  • Same Bed, Different Dreams (Episode 556): Stories of people who are tied together, but imagine radically different futures. In one case, a movie star and her ex-husband plot against Kim Jong-Il. In another, a woman stalks her doppleganger. And sometimes, one bed is the basis for an entire relationship, even for a man who almost never sees the person who shares his bed.
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5. TED Radio Hour

"The TED Radio Hour is a journey through fascinating ideas: astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, new ways to think and create. Based on Talks given by riveting speakers on the world-renowned TED stage, each show is centered on a common theme – such as the source of happiness, crowd-sourcing innovation, power shifts, or inexplicable connections."

If you love TED talks, TED Radio Hour gives you an even more comprehensive breakdown of the topics discussed in TED talks.

Favorite episodes: 

  • How It All Began (Original Broadcast: Oct 24, 2014): In this hour, TED speakers explore our origins as a species — who we are, where we come from, where we're headed — and how we're connected to everything that came before us.
  • Growing Up (Original Broadcast: Aug 1, 2014): What makes us who we are? How do parents mold children into who they are? In this hour, TED speakers reflect on how our upbringing shapes us.
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6. Sword and Scale

"Sword and Scale, which debuted in 2013, covers the underworld of criminal activity and the demented minds that perform the most despicable and unthinkable actions."

If you're easily irked by real crime and first person accounts of horrific crime, this podcast is NOT for you. This is in-your-face, crazy stories of real life crime and events. It's incredibly interesting if you can shake the icky feeling some of the episodes leave you with!

Favorite episodes: 

  • Episode 46: Despite being a grown man, Joseph McEnroe still exhibits the same traits he did when he was just a little boy: He bottles up his frustrations until they explode in fits of violence.The episode discusses the deaths of six innocent people at the hands of this awkward young man, an illegitimate child without even a proper mother to guide him. You may think he’s a monster or you may take pity on him, but in the end a jury of 12 King County peers ultimately decided his fate. Is it life or death?
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7. Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People

"1 phone call. 1 hour. No names. No holds barred. That’s the premise behind Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, hosted by comedian Chris Gethard. Every week, Chris opens the phone line to one anonymous caller, and he can’t hang up first, no matter what."

Chris Gethard is funny, candid, and genuine as he talks to people for one hour with little to no control over the topic. Some of these have the potential to get really strange, but Chris always steers the conversation in a productive direction. He plays the part of entertained and empathetic listener, while also helping callers through some tough stuff when necessary.

Favorite episodes:

  • The Most Amazing Destruction (Episode 4): An aspiring voice actor talks about using jokes to help with the hard times, and explains how she frames success. Plus she asks Chris the most important question he has ever faced: if you were to be eaten by an animal of your choice, which one would it be?
  • Up All Night (Episode 9): This nurse has been up for 24 hours. Chris has the chance to ask her some questions that have been on his mind for a while.
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8. Limetown

"Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, "What happened to the people of Limetown?"

This fictional podcast is an awesome thriller revealed across seven episodes. I listened when this was still new and episodes came out every other week. I could not wait to get to the next episode. The season is complete so you can listen in succession now. But I'm warning you! It can get a bit creepy at times!

 

Some other podcasts we HIGHLY recommend are:

  • The Message (fiction, entertainment): The Message is a new podcast following the weekly reports and interviews from Nicky Tomalin, who is covering the decoding of a message from outer space received 70 years ago. Over the course of 8 episodes we get an inside ear on how a top team of cryptologists attempt to decipher, decode, and understand the alien message.
  • The Moth Podcast (lifestyle, live talk): Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories told live and without notes.The Moth Podcast features re-airs of all new episodes of The Moth Radio Hour, plus additional stories from our vast archive recorded over the past two decades.
  • Stuff You Should Know (education, science): Chuck and Josh run the Stuff You Should Know podcast and all the good things that emanate from it. You will never regret spending time with us, guaranteed.
  • Criminal (true life crime): Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.
  • Freakonomics Radio (life, science, economy): Host Stephen Dubner has surprising conversations that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports. Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs.
  • Serial (news, crime): Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season. Each season, we follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. We won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us.

We Hope You Enjoy Our Podcast Recommendations. Which Ones Are Your Favorite!?

Check out our post about Things I Will Never Buy Again (After Living Without Them)!!!