I live in Montreal and my family lives in Toronto, so I travel there often. I used to gallantly take the train for each trip, and spend those hours in transit working, studying or catching up with the latest cat videos trending on youtube.
Recently, however, I adopted a dog that I bring with me everywhere (even if she’s not really that “packable”), so I’ve found myself road-tripping the six hour stretch between home and the T-Dot on a regular basis. Driving there and back is a lot of downtime. Until I realized it was the perfect opportunity to indulge guiltlessly in one of my favorite leisurely activities: listening to podcasts. Before I know it, I’ve cruised over 500km and I’ve learned about the translucent skin of Polar Bears, listened to a short story by Raymond Carver and discovered the latest from the insane world of Night Vale. Basically, I should visit my family more often.
Anyway, if you are planning a road trip this summer (of course you are!! Start here), these are the podcasts you will want to download in advance and listen to while you drive.
This is my old-time favourite obsession. Actually, I barely listen to it while driving because I so look forward to each episode, I listen to it right away. The Moth is a live storytelling event with shows all over the world. Their weekly podcast comes out every Tuesday and features a curated selection of the best recorded stories in their archives. You will laugh out loud, sob, experience anger and joy. And you will want to retell the stories to your friends. Episodes can last anywhere between 15 and 55 minutes (and there is always more than one story per episode).
Imagine two dudes having a beer. One of them recently read an article about polar bears. The other dude also stumbled across some super interesting polar bear related facts. Go! Uncomplicated, seemingly unedited, candid and interesting conversation. And really, this “stuff” you should know can be anything. History, science, economics, drugs, anthropology… To give you an idea, these are some of the titles they’ve podcasted about: Can You Live Without a Bank Account, How Porta-Potties Work, Hibernation: Not a Snooze, Do Animals Have Natural Rights? How Chli Peppers Work, How Police Dogs Work and so many more!
Most episodes are about an hour long.
This one is not for everybody. You have to be open minded and like things that don’t make sense, but do make sense.. somehow. It’s science fiction mixed in with reality. I am not at all a fan of science fiction, but I am addicted to this podcast. The person that recommended it to me described it saying, “it’s about…it’s like… I cannot even describe it.” Well, my dear reader, I throw the same description at you! Night Vale is a parallel universe. Their website reads: WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events. Turn on your radio and hide.
Episodes are roughly 20 minutes long. You should scroll back and start at episode 1.
To be honest, I haven’t tuned in to the New Yorker in a while (since my latest road trip!), but it’s my classic go-to podcast. I’ve heard some stories that made me “meh” but also many I will never forget, like the one where Coyote sues Acme. Debra, the podcast’s hostess invites writers to chose other writers’ stories from the New Yorker archives, read them and then discuss them. Episodes vary in length anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour.
This one’s a new spinoff from Selected Shorts and involves celebrities like Josh Radnor, Kirsten Vangsness or Alec Baldwin, reading short stories live on stage from a New York City venue. As the podcast name indicates, these stories have some sort of R rated content. Episodes run for about half an hour.
Enough literature? Ok, here’s a little something closer in format and topic to Stuff You Should Know. This is the podcasts “that explores the hidden side of everything” and is hosted by the two writers who wrote the world wide best seller titled… you guessed it, ‘Freakonomics’. Some of their most recent episodes, which all near 30 minutes in length, include: How to Be More Productive, Bad Medicine, Part2: (Drug) Trials and Tribulations, How to Make a Bad Decision, Trust Me and Why Are We Still Using Cash?
Radiolab has had a bit of a shaky 2016 and start of 2017, but I must mention it here because its sound design and content have revolutionized podcasting, and because it is amongst my faves. Promise me you’ll listen to it, and promise me you’ll start way back, with episodes from 2014. Oh, what is it about? It’s like… scientific/journalistic investigations about anything. Examples include tracking the very first AIDS patient, studying subcultures like The Frikis, a discussing a chunk of history, what happens to donated organs, the Galapagos islands and more. So much more!
So there you have it. Pack a tight iPod or MP3 player or whatever it is you use to listen to stuff and hit the road!