In the past week, I have driven nearly 11,000 miles from London to Mongolia, walked the Amazon from top to bottom and sat under a baobab tree in Senegal, listening to chirping birds. My travel was completely safe: I simply slipped on headphones. When I was ready to return home, I removed them.
Before the pandemic, podcasts helped me stave off boredom on long-haul flights and kept me company during sleepless nights when my body was in one time zone and my mind was in another. Now, the digital audio shows are my only form of travel. If I can't physically travel, at least I can mentally move around the globe.
With limited activities, people are spending more time tuning in to podcasts. Edison Research's Podcast Consumer Tracker discovered a 30-minute uptick in listening times, to 6 hours 45 minutes per week. The listeners' locales have also shifted. "I can say that 'at home' is overwhelmingly the top location for podcast listening," said Tom Webster, a senior vice president of Edison Research.
Clearly, we are looking for an escape, even if all roads lead inward.
The most engaging shows incorporate audio from the destination - honking horns, bleating lambs, scraps of conversation in a foreign language - but sending a reporter into the field is expensive. So many shows rely on studio interviews or guests recapping their adventures ex post facto - the equivalent of Aunt Jane prattling on about her trip to Tuscany over the phone.
There are enough travel podcasts to fill the weeks and months until your vaccine appointment. I sampled dozens and pulled together a playlist of active podcasts that touches on a variety of topics and storytelling styles. Here are my picks and their target audiences:
If you start every morning with a cup of fair-trade coffee and talk shows . . .
"Zero to Travel" caters to travelers who suffer from a severe case of wanderlust and, with a little encouragement, might be ready to break their lease for a life on the road. Host Jason Moore chats with experts who share tips harvested from their real-life experiences, such as a couple who paid off their $70,000 debt to travel full time and a woman who left her corporate job to work on a yacht. Many episodes speak to those with more modest ambitions, such as his travel guide to Argentina and a rundown of the world's least expensive destinations. On "The Thoughtful Travel Podcast," Amanda Kendle leads discussions that are equal parts practical and philosophical. Recent episodes have delved into such sensitive subjects as animal tourism, disabled travelers and visiting Australia after the wildfires.
If you watch "Parts Unknown" with a box of tissues on your lap . . .
"The Trip" was started in 2018 by Bourdain and foreign correspondent Nathan Thornburgh, who took over as host after Bourdain's death. However, every episode seems to contain the late chef's unquenchable curiosity and willingness to go there, such as a boozy festival commemorating the dead in Madagascar. "Armchair Explorer" is ear candy for listeners eager to advance from soft to hardcore adventures. In each show, a fearless traveler shares his or her adrenaline-pumping escapade, such as a 5,000-mile expedition through the Middle East, great white shark cage diving in Australia and a rickshaw race across India.
If you wish Yogi and Boo-Boo had taken their show on the road . . .
Brad and Matt Kirouac, plus their dog, Finn, traded in their Chicago apartment for a 26-foot RV and a road map of National Park Service sites. In "Parklandia," they share tips, history and comic pratfalls under such clever headings as "The Mary-Kate and Ashley of Arches National Park" and "Abe Lincoln Is the Beyoncé of Gettysburg National Military Park." In May, the hosts announced that they were retiring "Parklandia" and starting a new venture called "Hello, Ranger," which showcases the national park communities. They already have 20 episodes in the (bear-proof) bag.
If you are a fan of "This American Life" or "Serial" without the murder . . .
In "Far From Home," Scott Gurian, a former public radio reporter, roams the earth with his recording equipment, passport and unflappable disposition. In the first season, Gurian and his brother participate in the Mongol Rally, a nearly 11,000-mile drive from London to Mongolia. "Passport" fuses radio-style reportage with sweep-you-away storytelling: Neil Innes and André Bartos, filmmakers who live in Barcelona, interview on-location correspondents who share their adventures - and affections - for, say, train travel in India and the filming of "Game of Thrones" in Belfast, with a special appearance by an Irishman who worked as an extra on the HBO show.
If you are a [insert destination name here]-phile . . .
Kerning Cultures Network, which runs the "Kerning Cultures" podcast, is the Middle East's first venture-funded podcast company. It is also helmed by women. The stories are based in the Middle East and North Africa and resemble a tray of assorted Arabic sweets. A few plucked from the gold-plated platter: the meaning of coffee to a Sufi, Emirati and Yemeni; baklava tales; and a Lebanese man's quest to visit all 47 U.S. towns named Lebanon. "The Musafir Stories" bounces around India, with each episode exploring a specific city, region or theme, such as "Land of Pashmina" or "Yoga in Netala." Its website includes helpful travel info, such as the closest airport and itinerary highlights.
If you are ready to upgrade your white-noise machine . . .
In "Field Recordings," global contributors tape their immediate surroundings, turning their setting into a concert stage: waves crashing on a beach in the country of Georgia, branches crackling in a snowy forest in Canada, grasslands awakening after a rainstorm in Senegal.