With travel opportunities likely to be opening up for all of us by the end of 2021, it’s time to start seeking inspiration for your next trip through the best travel podcasts.
The last year has been, for most of us, one of vicarious living. Be it through books, TV binges or podcasting, escapism has ballooned. For fellow travellers it has been especially hard with the customarily open road now blocked, forcing many of us to turn instead to travel podcasts and literature to get our fix. One survey by UK-based company Thinkmoney suggested that 56% of people spent more on streaming services and 27% spent more on books in 2020.
With the summer travel season close by, even if it comes too soon to travel safely for some of us, there’s no harm in researching your next trip today. Travel podcasts are a great, free way to start. They are a source of advice, stories, knowledge, entertainment, and indeed a little escapism, brought to you from around the world. Because it seems as though the number of podcasts available doubles every week, we decided to take a deeper dive into the travel podcast pool and pluck out, like pearls, ten of the best. All listed below are available on major podcast platforms.
Black Women Travel Podcast
One of the beautiful things about travel media in the 21st century is that nobody’s voice is stifled by archaic gatekeepers. Black Women Travel Podcast offers a platform to women of colour from all backgrounds to tell their stories. This is not the only thing making the podcast a special listen though. Host Wanda Duncan and her interviewees, who work in a travel-related capacity or live the digital nomad life, delve into deep social issues related to tourism, such as empowerment, identity and the power of travel as a healing force.
A favourite option with vicarious travellers, Armchair Explorer engages with the type of travel that most of us will only ever read about or see in a documentary. This not only gives it life beyond any kind of lockdown but also adds real value to the listening experience. Host Aaron Millar interviews eminent figures in the worlds of exploration, adventure tourism and scientific discovery, including Rebecca Stephens – the first British woman to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents – and pro sailor Mark Towill, who talks about what it’s like to go sailing around the world.
Van Life with Tom Green
Comedian Tom Green’s work often required engaging directly with people. So when Covid-19 cut off his usual avenues of creative expression, he took the opportunity to figure out some things in life that he’d always wanted to address. He packed his life into the back of a Boho camper van and started to foray out from his LA home deeper into the US. This resultant podcast – Van Life with Tom Green, produced by Audio Up Media – touches on van life during a pandemic, evolving creatively, and visiting the USA’s own Machu Picchu that nobody is talking about. He also interviews fellow van life proponents and even catches up with a man who bought a ghost town.
One of the long-standing travel podcasts is the Amateur Traveler. In fact, it has been going so long that host Chris Christensen must have completed his 10,000 hours and upgraded to the professional level years ago. With almost 750 episodes at the time of writing, the podcast explores sights in most of the world’s nations and delves deeper into some of the activities therein, from exploring the temples of Bangkok, to a ten-day hike along the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall in the UK. This is a great podcast for those in search of new ideas for their next trip.
Travel with Rick Steves
There’s a familiar name among the best travel podcasts for 2021 and that’s the established travel writer Rick Steves. If you’re a fan of his TV show, you’ll know there are very few parts of Western Europe Steves hasn’t visited. His podcast includes plenty of forays further afield as well. The show loosely follows his travels and is actually broadcast as a radio show first. Each episode is broken down into segments that span the globe, with interviews and stories covering all aspects of the travel spectrum including food, art, culture and more.
Zero to Travel Podcast
Coming closest on this list to being the podcast version of a self-help book is Zero to Travel, an informative look at how to stay travelling for months or even years, while making your money last longer too. As you may expect, there are interviews with those that are already living this dream in their own particular way, such as expats teaching English abroad and people sailing around the world. These episodes are interspersed with practical guides to everything travel related, including overcoming a fear of flying to the best gifts to buy for the travellers in your life.
Escape Routes is the travel podcast from Condé Nast Traveller. A relative newcomer on the scene, it consists of short (15-to-20-minute), easily digestible episodes (many other podcasts on this list span the 45 minutes – one hour range). Each one is a neat little vignette of a place in the world, such as Tulum, Mexico, or Ubud, Bali and presented by one of the magazine’s writers or editors, so you’re getting an intriguing range of voices from specialists in a particular area. Episodes are released sporadically.
Another great option for those in search of a vicarious experience of the less travelled road (or mountain path) is Phoebe Smith’s Wander Woman podcast. Smith is one of the impressive rising stars of contemporary travel writing and adopts more of a descriptive, literary approach in this podcast, often narrating her journey after the fact. This is augmented by audio clips recorded live along the way, or the occasional interview with a person encountered on the journey. The result takes listeners along for the journey in a more immersive way than the studio-made podcasts.
The Trail Less Traveled
The craft of story-telling is a celebrated aspect of all human cultures. Stories unite us, so it is quite natural that The Trail Less Traveled aims to explore stories with the same passion as it explores places. Host Mandela Leola van Eeden (fantastic name) meets a fascinating array of people, and through them explores topics that are close to every good traveller’s heart, such as anthropology and natural history. The quest takes her from bustling cities such as Havana to far-flung corners of the planet, including the desert of Western Sahara.
Roads and Kingdoms team up with Luminary Media to produce The Trip, a fortnightly exploration of world culture from the comfort of home. Hosted by R&K CEO Nathan Thornburgh, the set-up is simple: sit down and share a drink with interesting people from around the world and talk about their work. Thornburgh chats with artists, journalists, musicians and, true to the first love of the show’s original co-host – the late, great Anthony Bourdain – culinary experts from far and wide. Recent spotlights include Nairobi, Montréal and Porto.