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7 Podcast Picks for Planes, Trains & Automobiles

When you get on a bus in another country, you can be sure you’ll be on it at least an hour longer than expected. My first bus ride from Bali to the Gilimanuk took two extra hours before we even left the station, and left me with no entertainment other than a staticky Indonesian soap opera on the microscopic bus TV. Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared. Since then, however, I’ve learned a lot and decided to pack my own entertainment. Sure, music is great, but some of us don’t have the dough to shell out for that sweet Spotify Premium. So instead I turned to podcasts.

As a bigtime podcast listener now, I follow my favorite ones even when I’m not away. I think they’re fascinating -- bits of life and science that can totally capture my attention without making me realize that hours have passed. Essentially, they’re perfect for long bus rides. So I wanted to share with you guys my favorites -- the ones that have gotten me through station delays, flash floods, and stubborn llamas who park themselves on the road.

Invisibilia podcast logo from NPR public radio

1. Invisibilia, (1 hour long)

Invisibilia is far and away my favorite podcast on this list, primarily because I absolutely love the subject matter. It attempts to explore all of the thoughts, patterns and unseen forces that shape the way we think and behave. I know, it sounds wacky and super theoretical, but the hosts do an incredible job of using detailed and relatable stories to bring the difficult-to-understand concepts down to our level. I’ve not only learned a TON from this podcast about big concepts like emotions, thought patterns, and morality, but I’ve actually taken a lot of those concepts and found ways to apply them to my own life. I highly recommend giving this one a shot -- it’s got something for everyone.

Radiolab podcast logo from NPR public radio

2. Radiolab, (1 hour long)

Radiolab is a podcast that does the impossible job of seamlessly blending complex science with compelling and emotionally gripping stories. Like Invisibilia, it handles a bunch of fascinating behavioral concepts like humanity, good vs. bad, and sociology, but it also takes on wacky and random subjects like genetics, K-pop, and football. Radiolab has made me cry before, and it was during a story about dolphins -- it can and will tug at your heartstrings. A little warning, though -- the hosts are...wacky -- think Bill Nye meets high school science dweeb. But you get used to them pretty quickly and even grow to like them after a while. Their newer stuff unfortunately isn’t really as good as their older episodes, but at the very least give the earlier ones a try. I think you’ll get hooked.

This American Life logo from NPR public radio featuring a drawing of Ira Glass

3. This American Life, (1 hour long)

This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts, mostly because it’s reliably interesting. Each podcast has a theme containing 3-5 stories, all of which circle around that theme. I’ve listened to episodes about immigration policy, Valentines Day, and murderous doctors. There’s honestly no type of story this podcast hasn’t tackled, and it’s not afraid to get controversial. What I really like about it, though, is that it always tries to do so in a very impartial, well-rounded way by giving you plenty of different perspectives. Heads up, though, it’s quite...uhmm...snooty, I guess? Each segment is separated into “acts” and the host can definitely give off a pretentious New York elite sort-of vibe. But if you can get past that, I dare you to find an episode that doesn’t flex the ol’ noodle.

The Moth Radio Hour podcast and story slam logo from NPR public radio

4. The Moth (20 minutes long)

Joining the list of podcasts that have made me cry is The Moth. The Moth takes weekly themes and brings them together with everyday people’s personal accounts of their lives in relation to the theme. This one is all stories without the science. I’ve heard heartbreaking stories about death and hilarious stories about ghosts. I’ve heard lovely stories about people meeting each other in unlikely circumstances, and I’ve also heard pretentious stories about pretty much nothing. With The Moth I’d say, judge it on a story-by-story basis. Some of them are uninspiring, but others will easily make you weep. I’ve personally found it good to layer these episodes on long bus rides, as they’re quite short compared to the other podcasts.

Serial Podcast logo from NPR public radio season 1

5. Serial, Season 1, (1 hour long)

I think Serial is the podcast that actually started getting people hooked on podcasts, and if you haven’t listened to it by now, you really should. For those of you who don’t know it, Serial is 12 part journalistic docu-series exploring the case of an unsolved murder. Adnan Sayed, a charismatic and friendly high school student, is sentenced to life in prison for the alleged murder of his girlfriend. Things get messy, however, as his case is flimsy and the timelines leave a lot of gaps. This podcast is awesome because it’s as gripping as a binge-worthy Netflix show. As soon as you finish an episode, you’ll want to jump to the next one because you’re dying to find out what happens. I really think this may be the most popular podcast of all time, so it’s definitely worth checking out, and can easily clear a 12 hour bus ride if you listen to it all back to back.

S-Town podcast logo from NPR public radio

6. S-Town, (1 hour long)

Written and formatted the same way as Serial, S-Town begins very similarly. A man calls a producer in an attempt to solve an unsolved murder in his town. But the series takes a wild turn and delves into the secretive and fascinating life of a man who seems to have everything figured out. As gripping and suspenseful as Serial, I listened to all of S-Town on a long bus ride in one shot. It’s powerful, entertaining, and reads like a mystery novel as you unravel the life of the fascinating protagonist in real time. I highly recommend this to people who, like me, get trapped in Netflix binges quite easily.

The Power of Vulnerability audiobook on Audible by Brene Brown, PHD

7. Bonus: The Power of Vulnerability (Audiobook, 6.5 hours long)

Okay, so I cheated a bit with this one. It’s not a podcast, but I couldn’t leave it out of this list because of the impact it had on me. Brene Brown, the author of this audiobook and of a hugely popular TED talk, is a scientific person -- not at all a lovey dovey, self-helpy kind of author. But in her years of scientific research surrounding the concept of shame, she’s managed to find direct, digestible and relatable ways to explain the things that create happiness in people, and more importantly, the things that keep them from it. She brilliantly details the qualities of wholehearted and vulnerable people, and goes in depth about the complex and convoluted ways we, as people, have managed to sidestep and avoid it. This book has helped me tremendously with my anxiety and given me the tools to better understand myself. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this audiobook has seriously changed the way I see myself and others. It’s definitely worth a listen, and its length of 6.5 hours makes it perfect for a lengthy, cross-country bus ride.

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