Our Favorite Binge-Worthy Podcasts for Roadtrips
As a podcast junkie, the long hours we spend in the car is basically Jordan’s version of Heaven.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with her that’s lasted longer than a few minutes, she’s probably offered you a long list of annotated podcast recommendations, right down to her favorite episodes of each one.
So, it stands to reason that, now that we have a reasonably captive audience (that’s you, pal) she would waste no time compiling a list of her favorite podcasts.
Also, with Thanksgiving creeping up, we thought we’d arm you with some good material for those long travel days you may have ahead. These are all specifically chosen because they are good for a binge-listen, making them perfect for long car trips.
Of course, they can also be enjoyed during a nice run or on your morning commute. Their enjoyability is unconditional.
So, please unconditionally enjoy.
The Bright Sessions by Lauren Shippen (Fiction)
In this podcast you’ll listen in on fictional therapy sessions between Dr. Bright and her unusual patients, all of whom are learning to live with some seemingly supernatural “ability”.
As the sessions progress, the patients’ stories begin to intersect and intertwine. Dr. Bright’s relationship with each of them becomes more complicated as it is revealed that her personal history with “abilities” is as strange as anything else.
The episodes are short – between three and twenty minutes – which drives the story forward quickly and keeps things exciting.
The podcast is currently in its fourth season, so there is plenty of material available. Feel free to settle in and get invested.
S-Town from Serial & This American Life (Narrative Non-Fiction)
S-Town is NPR’s follow-up to its wildly popular Serial podcast (also on this list), but it couldn’t be more different from Serial.
S-Town follows the story of a man in rural Alabama who contacts NPR to request an investigation into rumors of corruption and murder in his hometown. As the man assists NPR in its investigation, we quickly get the impression that he’s neglected to mention the most captivating thing about this town – him.
Episodes are around an hour, and the first big twist of the season happens early, so you’re hooked right from the beginning. Intimately and warmly reported by NPR’s Brian Reed.
Season One of Serial from This American Life (Narrative Non-Fiction)
Season one of Serial was published in 2014 and is arguably the series that brought podcasts to the mainstream. Mostly, if people have listened to any podcast, it’s Serial Season One.
The series is hosted by Sarah Koenig, who is an investigative reporter with NPR’s This American Life. Earlier in her career, however, she investigated and wrote a piece about a lawyer in Baltimore who had been disbarred for deliberately losing cases, only to continue charging clients exorbitant fees to handle their appeals.
Enter friends of Adnan Syed who, in 1999, was convicted of killing his girlfriend and sentenced to life in prison at 18 years old. Adnan’s case was fought and lost by – you guessed it – the very same attorney Sarah Koenig had investigated years earlier. Adnan’s friends, convinced of his innocence, bring Adnan’s case to Sarah’s attention and present her with evidence of his innocence – evidence that, it turns out, was never presented at trial.
Sarah spends the season (taking place over the course of a year or more) talking to Adnan’s friends, jury members, witnesses, experts, and even Adnan himself.
Serial is a fascinating look at, not only Adnan’s case, but at the U.S. justice system, human memory, young love, and psychology. Sarah Koenig’s reporting is thorough and so accessible. She’s not only narrating, but reacting and responding as any person – as we, as the listeners – also are. You feel like she’s in it with you (which, in effect, she was. When the series first aired, the episodes were being produced contemporaneously with her investigation, so when there was a cliff-hanger, it’s because she was left hanging, too).
Missing Richard Simmons (Narrative Non-Fiction)
Did you know Richard Simmons hasn’t been seen in public since 2014?! This podcast basically just investigates where the hell he is.
Dan Taberski talks to people who know Richard, talks a bit about Richard’s history and legacy, and even tries to find Richard at his home.
It’s short by podcast series standards, just six thirty-minute episodes (plus a bonus episode that was just published on November 1st). Let’s call it a miniseries. You can knock it out in one morning of driving.
Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell (Non-Fiction)
Revisionist History was Jordan’s first post-Serial love affair. Malcolm Gladwell – you’ve heard of him; you probably read Outliers when you were deciding whether to go to business school – hosts this podcast that seeks to “reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”
His topics run the gamut of deathly serious to seemingly innocuous – an entire episode is dedicated to why McDonalds changed its original french fry recipe in the 1990s, for example.
Malcolm hosts in the most palatable, comprehensible, dare-we-say charming (but no less informative) manner. He is an incredibly smart guy who has no interest in seeming superior.
Every episode is so good, it’s hard to pick just a few to recommend. There are three seasons available right now and I believe he planned to stop at three and move on to new projects. So, savor them.
Homecoming from Gimlet Media (Fiction)
This is one we stumbled across semi-accidentally. We came to the end of our podcast rolodex and did a quick little search of what we should listen to next. We saw Homecoming’s stacked cast and we were in; Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, and Alia Shawkat all voice main characters.
Without giving too much away, Homecoming is a story told through fictional recordings of therapy sessions and phone calls between the employees and clients of The Homecoming Initiative, which is a sort of therapeutic halfway house for soldiers returning from war.
Catherine Keener voices (and, by the way, does anyone have a more beautiful speaking voice?) a well-intentioned therapist at Homecoming who starts to realize that the goal of Homecoming isn’t as pure as she thought it was.
Sidenote: Homecoming was recently adapted for television by Amazon and stars Julia Roberts as Heidi, the therapist voiced in the podcast by Catherine Keener. This is actually only the second show we’ve watched all the way through since Pretirement (the other being Maniac) we recommend it highly. The story is a bit different than in the podcast, so that may factor into your decision of which to enjoy first.
Sandra from Gimlet Media (Fiction)
Another fiction podcast by Gimlet Media, also starring Alia Shawkat (you know her as Maeby from Arrested Development).
Alia plays Helen, an employee working at a Siri or Alexa-type service who gets a little too involved in the lives of the people the service, um…serves. we r vry good @ english
Ethan Hawke (‘MEMBER HIM?) and Kristen Wiig also voice main characters.
Heavyweight from Gimlet Media (Non-Fiction)
Wow. Gimlet Media is featuring prominently on this list. They’re putting out a truly exciting variety of stuff.
Heavyweight is difficult to summarize, so I’ll let it speak for itself:
“Maybe you’ve laid awake imagining how it could have been, how it might yet be, but the moment to act was never right. Well, the moment is here…join Jonathan Goldstein for road trips, thorny reunions, and difficult conversations as he backpedals his way into the past like a therapist with a time machine.”
Basically, the funny (and shameless) host explores situations that have been nagging at people for years – sometimes decades.
Favorite episodes include “Gregor” – the story of a guy who introduced Moby to the songs Moby sampled on his most commercially successful album and feels he hasn’t been appropriately recognized for it. Also, he wants his fucking CDs back – and “Isabel”, which explores the mystery of a suitcase full of love letters found on a Brooklyn street corner twenty years ago.
This one, like Revisionist History is not a narrative, so episodes do not have to be listened to in order or all at once.
Where Should We Begin with Esther Perel from Audible (Non-Fiction)
Okay. Is it not the eavesdropper’s dream to listen in on juicy, dramatic therapy sessions? That is exactly what this podcast is: real-life recordings of real-life couples’ therapy sessions with the brilliant, experienced, objective, and wonderfully French Dr. Esther Perel.
If you are a TED Talk junkie, you may know Dr. Perel for her talks on intimacy, fidelity (and infidelity), and what it does (and doesn’t) mean to be in love, a marriage/long-term relationship.
There are two seasons available, and no two episodes are the same. There are straight couples, gay couples, queer couples, couples from starkly different backgrounds, religious couples, couples struggling with illness and addiction, happy couples, unhappy couples, young couples and older couples, dealing old wounds and new wounds, none of which – Dr. Perel reminds us – are insurmountable.
We’re not sure Dr. Perel could be more likable. She makes you feel like everything can always end up okay.
This podcast was once only available on Audible, but it looks like it’s also now available on Apple Podcasts.
Ear Hustle by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods (Non-Fiction)
Nigel Poor, a visual artist in San Francisco, teamed up with Earlonne Woods, currently a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison, to produce a podcast about what it’s like for prisoners in the American prison system.
First, it may be prudent to talk about what Ear Hustle is not. It is not a detailed exploration of the crimes that land people in prison, nor is it an in-depth look at the American justice system or industrial complex.
It’s educational on a micro scale – what certain inmate jargon means, how social groups are broken out in San Quentin, what it’s like to have family outside the prison, what prisoners’ day-to-day looks like, etc.
It’s not chock-full of groundbreaking or mind-blowing information. It’s a well-constructed, easy listen, and Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods have a really warm, pleasant dynamic. They have brief conversations with other inmates about their experiences, who are – surprise – actual human beings with compelling stories.