Ear to the ground: favourite podcasts for the road

Posted on 5 August 2013

While I’m an avid reader and always have a stack of books on the go, nothing packs quite so easily for a roadtrip as a good collection of podcasts.  Here are a few that I always download before hitting the road.

An important note: these are podcasts for travelling, not necessarily podcasts about travelling.  Do you have a favourite travel advice podcast?  Share it in the comments below!

All of the podcasts mentioned below are free.  Free stuff is good.

1. LibriVox: Free Audio Books

I love a good story, and nothing beats an audio book like a free audio book.  LibriVox bills itself as “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain”.  That means: free audio books of any publication no longer under copyright.  Can’t find your favourite book on LibriVox?  They’ll give you instructions for how to make an audio recording yourself, which you can share with others on LibriVox.

Check it out, and download an audio book now, at librivox.org.

2. It’s Storytime: The Moth and Confabulation

Nothing beats a good story like a good, true story.  The Moth is one of the most popular forums for this: live storytelling events, with real people telling true stories from their own lives.  The best stories make it to their podcast; check it out at themoth.org, or download The Moth from iTunes.

Other groups have been joining on the storytelling bandwagon, and Confabulation is another of my favourite true story podcasts.  Look them up here, or find them on iTunes.

3. Brain Food

When I’ve got another 350 km to my destination and I need something to keep my brain alert, I love switching to the latest podcast from This American Life.  The show is American, as the title suggests, but it deals with timely and relevant issues in a smart and engaging way that an international audience can absolutely relate to.  This American Life is broadcast live on over 500 radio stations in the United States, but the podcast is available through iTunes or on their website.

My other favourite podcast for exercising grey matter is Lexicon Valley, produced by Slate Magazine.  Their podcast is available online here, or through iTunes.  Lexicon Valley examines the quirks of language – recent episodes included “A Brief History of Swearing” and “Can Geography Affect Language?”

4. Don’t fall asleep just yet…

The podcast I’ve turned to most consistently since I got my first iPod seven years ago is The History of Rome.  Yup, turn up the geek factor. Mike Duncan spent approximately six years narrating the history of Rome into smart and witty 15-minute chunks (find the History of Rome here.) The podcast is also available through iTunes.

I’m not kidding: I absolutely love this one.  I’m no history buff, but here’s my dark confession: the first time I listened to a History of Rome podcast on an interminable bus journey, I fell fast asleep.  I tried listening again later, disappointed that I’d missed the end of the podcast.  I fell asleep again.

I love the content, don’t get me wrong, but Mike Duncan’s friendly and relaxed voice makes sleep inevitable.  When I’m staying at a backpackers and can’t fall asleep amid the rustle of dorm roommates, I plug in my headphones and switch on The History of Rome.  And, on the odd occasion that I stay awake through an entire episode, I learn more about Hannibal, military strategy, and the foundation of modern political thinking.  It’s pretty much a win-win situation.

Do you have a favourite podcast that you always download as you pack your suitcase?  Let us know!

If you aren’t a fan of podcasts, check out this playlist of the top 21 roadtrip songs.

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