There’s nothing like a good road trip to refuel the soul and explore the world around you.
Inevitably though, some parts of the journey are going to be less exciting than others. When every highway starts looking the same, you’ll need some entertainment to keep you going.
Fortunately, our phones have access to a vast library of free entertainment in the form of podcasts. Podcasts have exploded in popularity in the last decade, going from an obscure niche hobby to a worldwide sensation.
They’re particularly good for road trips, because you can download episodes or entire series in advance, then listen to them even when you’re driving in the middle of nowhere and don’t have cell service for streaming.
Just like you can spend hours staring at the Netflix home screen, though, you can spend hours browsing podcasts before finding the “right” ones for your journey. That’s why we’ve done the heavy lifting for you, coming up with our picks for the best podcasts for road trips in 2021 and beyond.
For History Buffs: Hardcore History
There’s history, and then there’s Hardcore History.
This hit podcast from Dan Carlin takes listeners on sprawling, in-depth investigations of some of history’s most important events. From World War II to lesser-known stories like that of the Celtic Genocide, Carlin explores the what, the where, and most importantly, the why of humanity’s history.
Buckle up, because you’re going to be here for a while. Each episode typically runs 3-5+ hours, and most are part of a multi-episode series.
While some might scoff at the idea of a 30-hour series on the history of World War I, road-trippers will delight in Carlin’s in-depth insights. The host has a way of sucking you into the lesson, so much so that Hardcore History often feels more like an engaging fiction novel than a dry retelling of stories from the past.
For Lifetime Learners: TED Radio Hour
You’ve surely heard a TED Talk at some point in your life. The organization’s catchphrase is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, and each speaker gives a short (usually 5-30 minute) presentation on a topic they are an expert in. The series covers everything from productivity to mental health to raising children and much more.
TED Radio Hour is a podcast version of the popular TED Talk series. It uses a more typical interview format, rather than the traditional monologue of standard TED talks, but the ideas — and the brilliant minds behind them — are the same.
If you’re looking for knowledge, inspiration, or simply a fresh perspective, check out TED Radio Hour.
For Families: WOW in the World
If you have little ones on board for your journey, check out WOW in the World. This podcast explores the coolest new stories in innovation, science and technology, in a way that’s easily digestible for kids.
Many episodes are presented as stories, which helps to keep kids engaged while sneaking in some important scientific knowledge! From panda poop to the chances of finding life on Venus, the show covers a wide range of topics in its fun, fast-paced episodes.
Despite its child-friendly status, WOW in the World is still interesting for us fully-grown humans, making it one of the best road trip podcasts for families of all shapes and sizes.
For Mystery Fans: Blood Ties
Blood Ties is a fictional mystery/thriller that feels so real, you’ll question whether it’s actually true crime. The story follows affluent siblings Eleonore and Michael Richland, after their parents’ private plane mysteriously vanishes on the way to a family vacation in the Caribbean.
Blood Ties features a star-studded cast including Gillian Jacobs (of Community and Love), Josh Gad (of Frozen), Amy Landecker (of Transparent), Dominic Monaghan (of Lost), and more.
The six-part series (now with a separate second season) will suck you right in, making that next stretch of highway fly by.
For a Laugh: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Popular late night TV host Conan O’Brien is let loose on your ears in Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend. This unscripted interview-slash-celebrity-hangout-series is a casual and hilarious way to pass the time.
In a decidedly informal format, O’Brien chats it up with celebrities, musicians, politicians, comedians, and fellow funny people from all walks of life. The result is a thoroughly entertaining, exceedingly random podcast.
Combining improvisational comedy with lengthy interviews doesn’t seem like a natural fit, but if anyone can make it work, it’s Conan O’Brien… and he definitely does.
For Entrepreneurs: How I Built This
If you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, How I Built This provides plenty of thought-provoking inspiration. The long-form interview format features in-depth conversations with founders and well known entrepreneurs.
It’s hosted by Guy Raz, who’s also part of the Wow in the World podcast mentioned earlier, but this is a very different kind of show. It focuses on the “household names” of the business world, interviewing the founders of companies like Expedia, Zillow, JetBlue, Chipotle, Patreon, and many more.
The guests often start with their brief life story, before diving into the details of how they started and built their business(es) and what they’ve learned along the way. The best episodes are often with those who’ve sold or retired from the companies that made them famous: they tend to be a lot less guarded about what they say!
For True Crime Junkies: Casefile
There’s something oddly intoxicating about true crime podcasts. Or maybe that’s just me?
Casefile is perhaps the best true crime podcast for road trips. The show has been running since 2016, so has amassed a huge back catalogue of episodes to binge. Since there are so many episodes, you can even sort by category, with everything from murder to abduction to arson.
Each episode explores a different true crime story, focusing on the crime, investigation, and trials that took place. Both solved and unsolved mysteries are included, and the production value is top-notch.
For Random, Hilarious Banter: Smartless
Smartless is an interview-style show that pits three hosts against one guest. The difference is that two of the hosts have no idea who they will be interviewing before the show starts. The result is a truly random conversation with celebrity guests, comedians, actors and experts.
Oh, and it’s hosted by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Ozark), Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Bojack Horseman) and Sean Hayes (Will & Grace), all three of which are thoroughly hilarious. Each episode I’ve listened to has been entertaining, but check out the Stephen Colbert interview for some hearty belly laughs.
For Creative Business Owners: What Is It All For?
Wandering Aimfully is a delightful podcast about running an intentional small business (with a focus on online and creative businesses). What is an intentional business? The show’s hosts explain how to grow a thriving business while simultaneously living a satisfying, intentional life.
The show covers a wide range of topics, many of which will be helpful for entrepreneurs and everyday people alike. The weekly podcast covers everything from nitty-gritty business tips (how to optimize a product launch, actionable marketing strategies, etc.) to holistic life advice (how to deal with FOMO, ignoring societal expectations, etc.), to absolutely random topics (would you rather own a dragon, or be a dragon?).
It all comes together thanks to the husband-and-wife hosts who share excellent chemistry, hilarious banter, and helpful advice.
For Self Improvement: The Mindset Mentor
Are you perfect? If so, skip this section.
If you’re like most of us mere mortals, however, The Mindset Mentor may be worth a listen. This motivational/self-help podcast dives into the worlds of productivity, health, focus, relationships, finances and more, with the goal of helping listeners improve their lives.
The show’s host, Rob Dial, is knowledgeable without coming off as condescending (something that can’t be said for all self-help hosts!) Each 10-25 minute episode contains actionable advice, and a solid kick-in-the-butt to help keep you moving towards your goals, whatever they may be.
For Celebrity Interviews: Armchair Expert
Want to get to know some of the celebrities behind your favorite movies, shows, and books? The Armchair Expert with Dax Shephard is tough to beat.
This long-form interview podcast provides in-depth interviews with celebrities (Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Seth Rogan), musicians (Leon Bridges, Justin Timberlake), experts/authors (Michael Pollan, Sanjay Gupta) filmmakers (Quentin Tarentino), political figures (Barack Obama, Prince Harry), and more.
Episodes average around two hours long, giving the host plenty of time to dive into each guest’s life story, experiences, and insights. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the lives of public figures, delivered in a captivating, often hilarious way.
For Interactive Entertainment: Solve
Fancy yourself as a modern Sherlock Holmes in training? Check out Solve, an experimental new podcast format that lets you solve a murder case.
Solve is interactive. The true crime story is presented to you, and you’ll have the opportunity to “interview” suspects, gather evidence, and explore crime scenes to build your case.
If you’re a true-crime junkie, or you’d just like to explore the new world of interactive podcasts, check out Solve for a head-scratching mystery that you can play a vital role in solving.
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