I would say that this is the year that I discovered podcasts. I’d listened to one or two over the years, but it wasn’t until 2016/2017 that I became mildly addicted. I blame Serial. This binge-worthy true crime podcast launched in 2014, and since then, I’ve been looking for it’s replacement. I love that podcasts are diverse in content, creative in production, and created by ordinary people with passion. Sure, there’s a few I enjoy that are star-studded and celebrity endorsed, but I love the everyday stories. I love that podcasts are [usually] weekly, or at least seasonally. A podcast combines the imagination required for reading a book and the anticipation of waiting week to week of old school TV. Living overseas, podcasts have helped me stay connected to American current events and cultural phenomenons. And they are perfect for those flights, train rides, and bus trips that never seem to end. So check out my handy list of podcasts for travel days and download something new!
Mysteries & Criminals
This where it all began for me. If you haven’t yet experienced the obsession that is Serial, stop reading my blog and download it now. Come back again in 12 – 14 hours. Sarah Koenig, a producer on another fabulous podcast, is the host & investigator of true crime narrative worthy of legend. In 1999, Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore, is found murdered. Her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is arrested for the crime six weeks later. He’s always maintained his innocent, even after all these years behind bars. Sarah Koenig & team set out to try and uncover the truth, or at least answer some questions about the inconsistencies that are glaringly obvious with Adnan’s case. After the twelve episodes of Season One, you’ll join the millions of people wondering… “Is Adnan guilty?”
Recommended Episode: Well, all of Season One, but a standout episode was Episode 5 “Route Talk” where Sarah & team recreate the route police claim Adnan took that day he supposedly murdered Hae Min Lee.
Criminal, like it sounds, is a podcast about crime. But it’s not a murder podcast. And it doesn’t just focus on one crime. Criminal is a broader look at crimes & the criminals who commit them. New York Magazine says it this way “Criminal is a true crime podcast that understands crime as something sociological, historical, even anthropological — that crime is a function of people, time, and place.” Host Phoebe Judge has such a smooth storytelling voice that you’ll want to listen to this podcast for hours. Episodes are usually under a half hour, and it’s great for trying to binge catch up on these episodes. Whether Phoebe is talking to someone about how to fake their own death, the legalities of assisted suicide, or the ramifications of identity theft, Criminal is a podcast that will educate and entertain.
Recommended Episodes: Episode 45 “Just Mercy”, in which Phoebe interview Bryan Stevenson about the prison system and death row in America. This episode was so fantastic that I went out and got Stevenson’s book and devoured it in days. Another stand out is Episode 15 “He’s Neutral”. This is the episode I recommend to people who don’t normally listen to podcasts. It’s about a guy who gets fed up with the crime and downward spiral of his neighborhood, he inadvertently creates the largest Buddhist shrine in his city.
In the Dark
In the Dark can be one of those podcasts that tough to listen to. It’s the story about the decades long unsolved abduction of Jacob Wetterling from rural Minnesota over 25 years ago. Host Madeleine Baran talks to Jacob’s family, to law enforcement, and other people connected to this case and begins to ask questions that should have been asked years ago. Could Jacob’s abduction been prevented? Did the police do a thorough job investigating the crime? What impact did this case have on the national level? What can be done to keep this kind of crime happening again. In the Dark is a such a well researched, well edited and well produced podcast. Listeners feel as though they are investigating this story with Madeleine. There’s twists and turns, and emotional heart stirring moments. I can’t recommend this podcast enough. After Serial, this is the most elegant investigative podcast I’ve ever heard.
Recommended Episodes: Episode 3 “The One Who Got Away”. This episode follows a brutal look at what law enforcement didn’t get right the night Jacob went missing in Episode 2. In Episode 3, we get to hear about an attempted crime so similar to Jacob’s, we begin to realize the law enforcement in this county have had problems solving crimes far before Jacob went missing.
Crime Writers On
OK, here’s where I get a little meta in my podcast tastes. Crime Writers On is a podcast in which a hilarious & educated panel of journalists & crime authors comment on other true crime podcasts, books, and documentaries. If you are thinking, that sounds pretty dull, fear not. This podcast is anything but dull. Rebecca, Kevin, Toby & Lara are so well versed in the arena of covering true crime as news, and even fiction writing, that their commentary into other true crime productions genuinely adds value to the original material. They review both seasons of Serial, so if you love that podcast, be sure to check out their week by week analysis. They also provide “True Crime Updates” [insert echo here], in which they give news on trials or sentencing of previous cases they’ve covered. Two things I really enjoy about this podcast, is first, their sense of humor. I am often laughing while wearing headphones, causing my husband to look at me strangely. But I can’t help it. It’s so witty. Second, the ads. Almost every podcast has to read out their ads, and I used to think, well there’s no better way to do that! But Crime Writers On took ad reading to a whole new level. Kevin, specifically, will work an ad into the actual story they are covering without anyone know he’s setting up an ad…catching everyone off guard. When they are talking a suspect having to go on the run, Kevin casually mentions he may want to dye his hair using BRAND ABC hair dye. Cue laughter. Cue ad music background track. It’s clever, and I appreciate clever.
Recommended Episodes: Really any episode that you recognize the material they are covering. I discovered new podcasts & documentaries based on their reviews alone. If you enjoyed [or loathed] the S-Town podcast, Stranger Things, the Amanda Knox Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer, and the Jon Benet Ramsey CBS special, they’ve covered all those topics. Pick one you recognize, and give it a listen! It’s pretty great.
Society & Culture
This is a hard podcast to describe in a nutshell. Probably because every time I try, I make the nutshell sound incredibly dull. But it’s so far from dull. It’s a storytelling podcast about design, architecture, and about the little things in our every day life that we fail to notice. Hosted by Roman Mars, whose voice is tailor made for podcasting, 99% Invisible is one of the most creative podcasts I’ve ever listened to. Each episode is usually under 30 minutes, which allows it to be a very binge-able podcast. I rarely listen to just one episode. So many fascinating topics have been covered on 99% Invisible, and I’ve learned so much from listening to this show. I find myself telling stories from the podcast in daily conversation. Ever wonder why the US is one of the only countries in the world not use the metric system [a fact that I loathe while traveling the world – Episode 280 “Half Measures”]? Ever thought about those dates on food packaging that tell us when food is about to “expire” [Episode 195 “Best Enjoy By”]? All this and more are tackled in this creative, clever, and often humorous podcast.
Recommended Episodes: Episode 284 “Hero Props – Graphic Design in Film & Television” talks to a designer to creates the physical props that are featured in entertainment. It’s super interesting. Episode 53 “Ten Letters for the President” talks about President Obama’s practice of reading and answering 10 letters a day that had been sent to the White House, admits the thousands. Episode 184 “Rajneeshpuram” is about a weird cult that set up in rural Oregon in the 1980’s. I could list countless episodes to recommend. Do yourself a favor and subscribe, and then go back and catch up on them all. It’s sure to pass the time on a trans-Atlantic flight in no time!
The Memory Palace
I first stopped on this podcast because of it’s name. What did it mean? It seemed so cryptic. Then I downloaded an episode called “Picture A Box” [Episode #48]. And then I stopped what I was doing just to listen. The music, the voice of the narrator, the rhythm of the words and the story…I had never heard this type of podcast before. Creator Nate DiMeo crafts works of spoken art through The Memory Palace podcast. Each episode is short, less than 20 minutes, and focuses on a moment of history. Such as Episode #48 “Picture a Box” tells the story of a man, a slave in the South in the 1800’s, who literally packed himself into a box and mailed himself North. I love this podcast because it’s the one you listen to, and it transports you to another place & time. When you put on your headphones, and listen to DiMeo tell you about someone you’ve never heard of before, everything else seems to fade away. For the long nights in crowded hostels or layovers in busy airports, this podcast will help you shut out the world and pass the time with something beautiful. In 2016/2017, Nate DiMeo became the Artist in Residence for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, creating special episodes to correlate with paintings and art in the museum. This podcast is art, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Recommended Episodes: All of them. Or Episode 48 “Picture a Box”, Episode 93 “Local Channels” about Florence Chadwick’s famous swims across the English Channel, or Episode 61 “Orbes Cintilantes” in which DiMeo travels to Brazil for an event in which his podcasts had been written into a book and translated into Portuguese, or Episode 88 “Open Road” about the Green Book and traveling on the road for African Americans before Civil Rights.
The West Wing Weekly
If you are a fan of the 90’s-00’s hit political TV show, The West Wing, this is your podcast. If you’ve never seen the show, but have been wanting a new show to binge, this podcast is the perfect complement. It’s hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway and The West Wing & Scandal actor, Joshua Malina. These two a really great pair. Hrishi is a super fan of the show, having seen every episode many times. Josh, having acted on the show, provides “insider baseball” knowledge and real life experience from his time with writers, directors, and creators on the show. They are funny, combative, detailed, nerdy, and all in all, fangirling over this excellent piece of television. I myself am a late comer to The West Wing, having binged it throughout 2015-16. So with the entire series fresh in my mind, I was ready to embark on this podcast journey. Each week, a new podcast episode is released, chronologically following the TV series. Most weeks, Hrishi and Josh bring on guests to interview, sometimes original cast members and show creators, or people who work or have worked in real life Washington DC focusing on the issues that the episode is discussing. I really enjoy how they take a piece of television almost 20 years old, and find modern themes and relevancy. While still bashing the very out of date moments as well! When real life politics is hard to take, turn to President Jed Bartlet…and Hrishi and Josh defending the spelling of his name.
Recommended Episodes: It’s hard to single out an episode of the podcast without talking about the episode of the TV show, because they are directly linked. So I’ll just talk about the guest interviews I really enjoyed in specific episodes. I loved when they’ve interviewed Aaron Sorkin, the writer & creator of The West Wing [and more!] in Episode 2.22 & 2.00. All the behind the scenes info was just fantastic. The live reunion episode of the The West Wing cast is a great episode, and worth the listen if you also loved this cast. Other great interviews include Episode 1.21 with Bill O’Brien, who played the translator to the Joey Lucas character. Also, Episode 3.00 with Former Press Secretary Mike McCurry commenting on the Isaac & Ishmael episode was particularly excellent. See, it’s hard to pick just one!
You Must Remember This
This podcast is not for the casual movie goer, but for the cinephile and ardent Hollywood devotee. You Must Remember This is a storytelling podcast about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century. If you live for Turner Classic Movie channel marathons, and fall asleep to Audrey Hepburn & Cary Grant films, this is the podcast for you. Each season of You Must Remember This looks at a different topic or celebrity in classic Hollywood. The incredibly well researched episodes are written & narrated by the fabulous Karina Longworth. She weaves her own writing & research with vintage film clip audio and guest star narration to bring to a life a specific movie or moment from film history. Past seasons have covered the Communist blacklist of Hollywood in the 1950’s, blonde bombshells who died before their time, and stories from the glory days of the MGM studio. Take a deep dive into cinema history with over a hundred episodes with the glitz & glamour from La La Land.
Recommend Episodes: My favorite season [maybe not surprisingly] is the season called “Charles Manson’s Hollywood”, which is a 12 episode season focusing on the life & the murders associated with Charles Manson, his followers and his interactions in the entertainment industry. It’s riveting, horrifying, and beautifully produced. Part 9, entitled “August 8-10, 1969” specifically covers the murders in which Manson & family is most famous, the murder of actress Sharon Tate.
Myths & Legends
I wasn’t actually sure which category to put this podcast into, but finally decided on Pop Culture, because so many of the stories covered in Myths & Legends have been inspirations behind our favorite Disney or superhero films over the decades. Each week, host & creator Jason Weiser takes a story from myth, legend, fairy tale, or folklore, and retells it for audiences today. “This show brings you folklore that has shaped our world. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.” If you love the King Arthur legends, or Greek mythology, or the conquests of the Vikings, this podcast is sure to entertain. Weiser’s creative storytelling ability is really what makes this podcast work. His humor and snark bring a comic commentary to these ancient tales. Myths & Legends is a podcast for the nerd, or the literary scholar, or the superhero fanboy in your life.
Recommended Episodes: I loved all the Disney inspired episodes, such as “Aladdin”, “Mulan”, “The Little Mermaid”, “Hercules”, “Beauty & the Beast”, “Pocahontas”, “Snow White” and even “Frozen”. Not surprisingly, the modern films have taken some liberties from the source material, and it’s entertaining to hear the original origins of these beloved tales. Also, I’ve learned that Japanese folklore is incredibly creepy.
Hope this list of some of my favorite podcasts help pass the hours of traveling and layovers and delays with levity and entertainment. Do you have a favorite podcast you enjoy while traveling? Let me know! I’m always looking for more to add to my queue!