Everyone always talks about making the perfect “road trip playlist.” There are two reasons I don’t think this as important as millions of Spotify users make it out to be. One: you don’t need to make the perfect road trip playlist because it already exists and it’s called Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. Two: while it’s true that driving down an empty highway with the windows down and the radio at full volume is a freeing, exciting feeling, listening to something that really grabs your attention is a better way to keep you alert and pass the time.
Some people enjoy listening to an audiobook while on the road; personally, I prefer podcasts. Steve and I started listening to podcasts on our road trip after we decided to check out NPR’s deservedly-hyped hit S-Town. We binged on all of the episodes over the course of several days, and then I learned that he had never listened to the first season of Serial. After that, it was the latest episodes of The Men in Blazers Show, the back episodes of Reply All, and more. Here are a few of my picks for longform listens to make the long hours on the road fly by in entertaining style.
Serial and S-Town
You probably don’t need me to tell you about these NPR-produced podcasts. S-Town was downloaded over 10 million times in the first four days of its release, and “Did Adnan do it?” was pretty much all anyone talked about for months after Serial came out. But it still bears repeating that if you somehow haven’t yet experienced this cultural phenomena and you need something to keep your attention for 10 hours or so, these podcasts should be your first picks.
I recently found out that this podcast is made by the folks behind HBO’s crime documentary The Jinx. While it doesn’t have the explosive ending of that series, this podcast from Gimlet still features compelling twists and turns as it explores the organized crime underbelly of Providence, Rhode Island. The creators display their investigative journalism skills by revealing connections and crafting a narrative that interweaves the stories of several prominent figures.
True crime is definitely the name of the game when it comes to podcasts featuring ongoing (serial, as it were) storylines (although if anyone knows of any great serial podcasts that aren’t true crime, please tell me about them!). This Canadian podcast has two seasons, each examining a cold case disappearance. What sets this one apart from some other, similar podcasts (that didn’t make this list)) for me, is the way the host engages with his interview subjects while retaining his journalistic integrity in telling an unbiased story with dignity for the victim.
If you know that scripted podcasts exist then you’ve heard of Night Vale, but since people don’t seem to be as familiar with fiction podcasts I think it has to be on the list. This podcast purports to be a radio show, War of the Worlds style, broadcasting a town where strange and surreal are the norm. Mostly void, partially stars, and the ideal blend of comedic and creepy to give you something to listen to while not scaring the shit out of you if you’re driving at night.
If scaring the shit out of you when you’re driving at night actually is what you’re looking for in a fiction podcast, look no further than this trio from Minnow Beats Whale. The Black Tapes and TANIS take place in the same universe, where journalists Nic and Alex explore paranormal mythos and supernatural events that will legitimately creepy you out. Rabbits is Carly Parker’s search for her missing friend, leading to a tech-based puzzle game that is much older and more sinister than it first appears.