The internet’s bottomless pit of content can plague us with choice overload. Factor in the added pressure of picking something good to listen to for a long flight or big road trip, and the task can feel impossible.
To help you whittle down the infinite options at your fingertips, we asked people who spend lots of time on the road what they turn on to pass the time. With backgrounds in art, history, food, travel, fashion and entertainment, their recommendations have something for every interest. They shared historical deep dives, uplifting comedy, dark true stories, musically driven series and inspiring success stories.
If you’re in for a marathon travel day, try one of these podcasts or audiobooks to download before you take off.
1. ‘Celebrity Book Club’
For a long road trip, Erin Haglund, an executive producer for TV and film, looks for something captivating but “light enough that you can just sort of check in and check out,” she said. Anything stronger comes with a risk. “You don’t want to miss your exit because you’re like so engaged to the story.” For her, “Celebrity Book Club” ticks those boxes. The podcast by comedian Chelsea Devantez gives a CliffsNotes summary of celebrity biographies you may have never gotten around to reading.
2. ‘Normal Gossip’
For dirty laundry from everyday people, Haglund also recommends the podcast “Normal Gossip.” Host Kelsey McKinney discusses juicy-yet-mundane stories from anonymous sources. In every episode, drama unfolds from Facebook groups, graduate school classmates, queer kickball leagues and Disney World. “It is often shocking and surprising and also hilarious,” Haglund said. “But I think my favorite part is that you get to enjoy somebody else’s messy life — consequence-free gossip.”
On her last road trip from L.A. to Utah, “which is two freeways for 600 miles, I listened to the entirety of the podcast ‘Fiasco,’” Haglund said. “It’s fascinating and depressing and educational and the archival [clips] they have access to is amazing.” The season Haglund devoured was on the gutting history of the HIV/AIDS crisis. “It’s incredibly moving,” she said.
4. ‘The Right Time’
When he’s on the road covering college football, ESPN reporter Harry Lyles Jr. tunes into the sports podcast “The Right Time” with Bomani Jones for the host’s big-picture perspective on the latest news, and entertaining guest banter. Produced three times a week, Jones has a solo show on Mondays, brings on friends of the show on Wednesdays and kicks off the weekends with “Foxworth Fridays,” featuring NFL player turned commentator Domonique Foxworth.
5. ‘The Moth’
For a laugh-out-loud listen, food and travel photographer Kristina Gill recommends downloading as many episodes as you can of “The Moth,” the podcast version of the live show that’s been running since 1997. People — from Nobel laureates to dental hygienists — tell true stories onstage in front of an audience without notes. Gill’s recent favorite featured Jamaican author Colin Channer and his story “To Catch A Teef.”
6. ‘The Documentary’
Gill’s backup is BBC’s “The Documentary” podcast, for learning about every topic on the planet from every corner of the world. The show’s extensive archive covers culture, current events, controversies and celebrities. You can fall asleep to an episode on the future of hip-hop and wake up learning about the challenges of long covid.
7. ‘Lexicon Valley’
For quick flights, comedian and podcast host Iliza Shlesinger’s show of choice is “Lexicon Valley” with Columbia University professor John McWhorter, which analyzes linguistics and digs into why language is the way it is. Not only is the show fascinating, Shlesinger says, but listening feels like going to college in the sky.
On long hauls, Shlesinger loves staring out the window and listening to “Lore,” a biweekly history podcast with dark, true stories on American folklore and music that’s both haunting and relaxing.
9. Lectures by Alan Watts
To cope with an intense fear of flying, artist and illustrator Michael McGregor developed a habit of turning on the same soothing entertainment each time he traveled. For a while, he turned to collections of lectures from scholar and philosopher Alan Watts he found on Audible. They seem to go on forever, exploring topics such as democracy in heaven, Taoism and beyond. “If you’re going to Korea from L.A., you could listen to that the entire time,” he said. “You can zone in or zone out, and when you wake up it’s still peaceful.”
10. ‘Catching the Big Fish’ by David Lynch
These days, McGregor likes revisiting filmmaker David Lynch’s audiobook “Catching the Big Fish,” which McGregor finds “to always be creatively stimulating and also very meditative … and his voice is really comforting on a plane.” In the book, Lynch shares his methods as an artist, including the importance of his 50-year meditation practice.
11. ‘The Diary of a CEO’
Jing Gao, founder of the modern Chinese food brand Fly By Jing, says entrepreneurs can’t miss with “The Diary of a CEO” with British entrepreneur Steven Bartlett. Guests run the gamut and go beyond typical business types, ranging from episodes with Deepak Chopra digging into the effects of stress on your mind and body to the rapper Macklemore sharing his story of addiction.
12. ‘Teenage Bonehead’
With a mind always running 100 miles an hour, L.A. Taco editor Javier Cabral says he can’t do podcasts or audiobooks — with the exception of music shows like “Teenage Bonehead.” “It’s run by a Latino punk dad out of the San Fernando Valley and he does an amazing job of archiving three-chord-RamonesCore punk from around the world,” Cabral said in an email.
Cabral’s also a fan of the podcast for the punk rock zine Razorcake — specifically “The Dollar Boys” weekly episode, “which is just a bunch of punks drinking beer, listening to fuzzy punk D-Beat vinyl, and having a good time,” Cabral said. “Their banter reminds me of pre-gaming for a punk show, which is a happy place for me.”
14. ‘How I Built This’
As the founder of the small group travel company the Table Less Traveled, Annie Sim uses her time in transit to find inspiration from other entrepreneurs through her favorite podcast “How I Built This” by Guy Raz. She downloads multiple episodes of the NPR show before flying and finds she always deplanes with new ideas after listening to how other people have pursued their dreams and passions and learned from their mistakes.
15. ‘Song Exploder’
For people who gravitate toward music over murder mysteries, Aliza Abarbanel, a co-founder and co-editor of the indie magazine Cake Zine, recommends “Song Exploder.” “There’s something both soothing and satisfying about hearing host Hrishikesh Hirway talk musicians like Yaeji, New Order and Sudan Archives through their process of crafting songs, building up each track from its conception to the final master,” Abarbanel said in an email.
16. ‘The Grand Tourist’
On airplanes and trains, Emilie Hawtin, an editor and the founder of the Clementina tailoring project, looks for podcasts featuring interviews with obsessive and ambitious creative people. She said in an email that’s a genre she finds calming, “which I’m sure could be examined.” A favorite is journalist Dan Rubinstein’s “The Grand Tourist,” a show that invites tastemakers on to discuss design, art, architecture, food, fashion and travel.
17. ‘Blood, Bones and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton
Since she moved to New Zealand during the pandemic lockdown, travel for writer and cookbook author Hillary Eaton takes significantly longer when she wants to see family in California and Canada, or get somewhere for work. Some standout audiobooks for those massive journeys have been “Blood, Bones and Butter” by New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton — whose writing Eaton describes as some of the most beautiful and unique on restaurants and food.
18. ‘Birnam Wood’ by Eleanor Catton
Eaton’s second pick is the eco-thriller audiobook “Birnam Wood” by Eleanor Catton, which she describes as sharp as glass and entirely fresh. The story takes place in New Zealand and involves tech billionaire “survivalists,” guerrilla gardening and a look at the country’s political pitfalls. Eaton stands by it as a perfect mix of action, entertainment and poignant political commentary.
19. ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ by David Sedaris
In his day-to-day, University of Nevada at Las Vegas associate professor and aviation historian Dan Bubb is usually reading heavy material to prepare for classes. But on a flight, Bubb prefers reading or listening to books that are funny and lighthearted. He recommends any of humorist David Sedaris’s audiobooks, but “Me Talk Pretty One Day” is a favorite.
20. ‘On Being’
Photographer Marianna Jamadi has a podcast for every kind of travel vibe. On days Jamadi is feeling more reflective, she goes to “On Being,” a former public radio program turned podcast from host Krista Tippett. Each episode features thoughtful conversations on “spiritual inquiry and science, social healing and the arts,” the show’s website says. Jamadi loves how the show shares the creative process, and she recommends the episode with sculptural artist Dario Robleto. “This episode is one of my favorites because it really inspired me to think about how to creatively express and digest the world around me and the experiences I go through,” she said in an email.
21. ‘You Must Remember This’
Rome-based journalist and podcaster Erica Firpo can’t stop recommending the podcast “You Must Remember This.” In fact, “I talk about it too much. … I can’t explain how much I love it,” she said. The podcast, created and narrated by Karina Longworth, tells the history of Hollywood by the decades, bringing new context to your old favorite films. “If you’re a cinema buff, it’s great,” Firpo said. “I’ve listened to all the ‘80s. I listened to all the ‘70s. … I listen to her nonstop.”
22. ‘Act of Oblivion’ by Robert Harris
Wayne Curtis splits his time between the Big Easy and a little cabin in central Maine. That means twice a year, the author and co-founder of the New Orleans Spirits Competition packs up his life and drives nearly 2,000 miles, giving him ample time to listen to historical fiction. “It takes me away from where I am better than any other sort of fiction, and when I shut it off my view of wherever I am is suddenly altered, and everything seems strangely new and fresh,” Curtis said in an email. A recent road trip favorite was the 17th century chase thriller “Act of Oblivion” by Robert Harris, one of The Post’s 10 best audiobooks of 2022.
23. ‘Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend’
From her experience taking a two-month road trip spanning San Francisco, the East Coast, Canada and Mexico, Cheema’s Travel founder Rani Cheema determined “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” is her “absolute favorite podcast.” The famous talk-show host and comedian brings on guests for in-depth conversations in an attempt to befriend them. “Not only is it funny, but it’s super endearing,” Cheema said. Even the ads are entertaining. “It’s the only podcast I do not skip on the commercials.”
Natalie Compton is a staff writer reporting on travel for the Washington Post. She has covered travel, food, and alcohol from every continent.