For even the toughest road warriors, travel dulls the mind. Spend enough time behind the wheel or in a seat watching the world go by, and it all just becomes a blur of scenery and moments. It’s even worse when you’re solo, when all you have is yourself and whatever you’re listening to keeping you company.
For those long drives and crowded flights, I’ve found that listening to podcasts is my secret weapon for keeping my brain from turning into mush. Stories give me something to focus on, a reason for my brain to stay active, which fights off the evils of drowsiness and boredom.
Nothing against one-shot podcasts, of which there are many that I love, but trips are the best time to binge-listen to a show that maybe you had been putting off. When you’ve got hours to kill and you can’t stand to listen to Spring Road Trip Mix ’16 one more time, these podcasts will keep your eyes open and your brain turning.
5. You Must Remember This, Charles Manson’s HollyWood
For Those Who Like: True Crime, Hollywood History, Music of the ’60s
Although You Must Remember This’s bread and butter is Old Hollywood, this 12-episode jaunt into the ’60s shines a light on a subject that many of us have heard of but don’t really know anything about. Here, not only will Karina Longworth teach you about Hollywood’s most famous murder and the man who orchestrated it, but you also find out how Doris Day, Kenneth Anger, John Waters and one of The Beach Boys are related to it, in roundabout fashions. Everyone knows who Charles Manson is, but the story is so much bigger than just one man.
Related: Outside of comedy and history podcasts, Film/TV/Other media might be the biggest genre in the medium. If there’s a show you like, it probably has some super fans talking about it. Pick a show you love and dig in. If you’re into comic books, I’m over the moon for Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men, in which our heroes try to do the impossible and make sense of the complicated X-Men franchise.
4. Roleplaying Public Radio Actual Play, Eclipse Phase: Know Evil
For Those Who Like: Games That Involve Dice, Transhumanity, Horror
The idea of listening to strangers play RPGs is admittedly a weird one, until you remember that RPGs are basically collaborative storytelling with dice. While there are many campaigns to choose from, Know Evil is a masterpiece because of how many different types of stories and settings the characters have to face in the course of the series. Caleb Stokes is wicked smart when it comes to developing creative and horrifying scenarios, and the nearish future world of Eclipse Phase gives him a playground for all sorts of madness. It includes one of the rare moments in podcasting that have actually given me chills from fear.
Related: If you want more RPPR goodness, just go down the best-of list; “Candle Cove” and “Coronet” show off the genius of Ross Payton, and “Preemptive Revenge” is one of those things that will make you fear time travel. For more fun with RPGs, give the One Shot podcast a listen.
3. The Attitude Era Podcast
For Those Who Like: Pro Wrestling, British TV References
Wrestling fans will forever argue about what the best period in wrestling history is, but for those of us who were teens in the late ’90s, it remains all about the Attitude Era. That was the last true high-water mark for wrestling in the United States, and it’s easy to look back at the Attitude Era with rose-colored classes, but how does it hold up for someone who has never seen it before? That’s what this podcast seeks to answer. The results are hilarious, and listening to the show feels like sitting around talking wrestling with your best mates. Relive the rise of Steve Austin, find some buried gems and learn to re-evaluate your childhood opinions, because you were probably super-wrong about The New Age Outlaws.
Related: If you want to relive the Hulk Hogan era of professional wrestling, I point you toward OSW Review. If you’re interested in deep dives into wrestling history, Between the Sheets is my favorite thing in the world right now.
2. Hardcore History, Wrath of the Khans
For Those Who Like: Military History, Boxing Analogies
Dan Carlin will be the first to tell you that he’s not a historian. He’s a history fan who happens to be really, really good at telling stories. While his epics on World War 1 and The Fall of the Roman Republic are every bit as good as Wrath of the Khans, those are stories you can hear in a lot of places. There aren’t a ton of people who want to sit down and talk to you for hours about what was likely the greatest army of all time, and that’s a shame because the Mongols are fascinating. If your knowledge of Genghis Khan is limited to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you’re missing out on so much. But with Hardcore History, you can fix that.
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Related: While I love Dan Carlin’s take on Rome, when it comes to history podcasts, you basically have to find time in your life at some point to marathon Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome. It is 179 episodes of awesome on one of the most interesting parts of human history. If you're more interested in folklore than straight history, you'll find a lot to like about Lore.
1. Limetown, Season 1
For Those Who Like: Serial, The X-Files, Old Time Radio Drama
There are a lot of podcasts that would easily be described as “serial, but with something paranormal and/or conspiracies,” but Limetown is easily the best of the bunch. The acting is mostly amazing, the sound design and production perfect, and the story focused and tight. Limetown is the story of Limetown, a city full of scientists and their families, and the reporter on the hunt for why everyone in Limetown disappeared. It gets dark. It gets scary. It has great cliffhangers. If you want to believe in the fictional storytelling power of podcasting, Limetown is a must-listen.
Related: If you like Limetown, you’ll probably also dig The Black Tapes Podcast and Tanis, which approach storytelling in a similar fashion and also break things down into seasons. You really can’t talk about narrative podcasts that involve conspiracies and horror without talking about Welcome to Night Vale, but their lack of a season structure makes it harder to recommend for this list, so you’ll just have to listen to all 84 episodes of it. You’ll thank me when you do.