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Image: Time Out

The 15 best road trip podcasts

You’re racking up some big miles, you’re done with the radio – here are the best podcasts for a big road trip

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

What is a quintessential road trip podcast? To be honest, there’s no real answer: the best podcast for a road trip is whatever you feel like listening to on your road trip.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of inspiration, and as a rule, you’re probably after something fun and light rather than difficult and challenging. So that’s what we’ve gone for here, a mix of upbeat music podcasts, gripping stories, big old belly laughs and fascinating trivia. All of them should at the very least keep your mind stimulated and your eyes open as you’re racking up the miles. Safe travels, and keep on podcastin’!

🎧 The best podcasts to listen to right now
🎶 The best podcasts on Spotify
🔪 The best true crime podcasts
😂 The best comedy podcasts
🏃 The best motivational podcasts
✊ The best political podcasts

Best road trip podcasts, ranked

Okay, the word ‘podcast’ had emphatically not been invented when ‘Desert Island Discs’ launched. Or, indeed, 50 years later. Running since 1942, the BBC’s iconic long-runner features a guest chatting about their life while choosing eight songs that mean something to them, plus the luxury item they’d take if stranded on a hypothetical desert island. It is a simple formula made a winner by the show’s brilliant hosts over the years, and the exceptional calibre of guests, who run the gamut from interesting business figures to huge celebrities. Savvily, the episodes are made available on Apple and Spotify as de facto podcasts, with many classic editions from the vaults nestling up to the new ones. Mixing interesting names with big tunes and a vast archive, there’ll be something fun for your road trip guaranteed here.

Nothing says ‘drivetime’ like Bruce Springsteen. Probably you’ve cranked out ‘Born to Run’ five times already on your road trip. But if you’re going for a more contemplative vibe, you can still enjoy The Boss via this luxury limited-edition podcast that sees him in conversation with the even more famous Barack Obama. ‘Renegades’ is a series of musings on life, the universe and the American Dream, with lashings of music chat inevitably in the mix. Yes, it’s liberal elite babyboomerism writ large. But it’s bloody classy.


Sometimes a laugh is all you need to pass the miles away: this deathlessly funny parody of true crime podcasts from The Onion is, straight up, a hoot. It follows David Pascall, a New York City reporter who uses an algorithm to determine which small town he should head to to find a hot dead girl he can make a lengthy podcast series about. It only ran for one series, but ‘A Very Fatal Murder’ is a pin-sharp parody of ‘Serial’ et al that should enliven even the most tedious journey, regardless of whether you personally are into true crime.

Nothing says ‘road trip’ like blasting a few tunes, but technically that’s a radio show, not a podcast. However, there are lots of great podcasts *about* music, one of the foremost of which is ‘Song Exploder’. Hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, it’s a deceptively simple concept: for each edition, an artist talks us through the creative process behind one of their songs and… that’s it. Insightful and varied, with a good mix of legacy greatest hits and contemporary songs from cutting edge artists, the 20-minute-episodes are long enough to feel like you’ve learned something, but short enough to feel like you’re flipping between songs. It’s as much about learning to appreciate something new as geeking over a classic.


If keeping the brain teased and stimulated is your goal on a lengthy trip, look no further than ‘No Such Thing As a Fish’, the weekly podcast from the ‘QI Elves’ (aka the researchers for the long-running trivia-based UK game show ‘QI’). Essentially each edition features the rotating cast of presenters - usually four per show - going to bat for their favourite fact that they’ve unearthed that week. The results are inevitably gloriously outlandish, amusingly useless, and utterly fascinating.

You don’t want road trip podcasts to be overly challenging. SmartLess may not be dumb, but it’s the podcast equivalent of a big glossy summer blockbuster, as A-lister hosts Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnott entertainingly shoot the breeze with their A-lister guests. There is a nominal conceit based on the fact that until the show starts the identity of the week’s guest is unknown to two of the three hosts. But that’s not really something you need to get hung up on. The appeal is the massive guests - pretty much as big as it gets - plus the undeniable easy, breezy, multimillion-dollar charm of the hosts.


If you want something a bit more nitty and gritty to dig into on a long journey, why not hook yourself up to the big zeitgeisty podcast of the year. From the makers of ‘Serial’, ‘The Trojan Horse Affair’ is a very deep dive into the titular British scandal, wherein an anonymous letter was sent to a Birmingham city councillor regarding a supposed plot by Islamic extremists to take over the city’s schools, leading to an Islamophobic scare and various toughenings of the law. But an in-depth investigation from reporters Hamza Syad and Brian Reed suggests a thoroughly dubious story behind the letter and the reforms carried out in its name.

Engrossing, accessible, funny and terrifying, Julian Simpson’s brilliant BBC trilogy of HP Lovecraft adaptations - that’s ‘The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ and ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ - are binge-listing heaven. Rather than straight adaptations of Lovecraft’s early-twentieth-century cosmic horror stories, they’re modernised as a series of faux true-crime podcasts called ‘Mystery Machine’, in which intrepid hosts Matthew Heawood and Kennedy Fischer investigate a series of unusual cold cases that bring them into contact with beings beyond the scope of human comprehension.


In this divided era, you’d still seriously struggle to find anybody who doesn’t think Dolly Parton is a living saint. And if you like the country music queen without being entirely sure of her story, this delightful podcast series tells you at length. It’s presented by Jad Abumrad, a US radio host who found out his father is a passing acquaintance of Parton’s and successfully parlayed it into getting access to the country music legend for an affable and energetic series that delves into everything from the enduring power of the song ‘Jolene’ to the delights of her Dollywood theme park.

Billing itself as ‘a pub quiz with friends’, ‘Things I Got Wrong at Trivia’ is a smart but slick trivia-based quiz show in which a posse of question-setting pals attempt to challenge each other - and by extension, us - with a series of tricky but never boring questions. Crafted with love, there are only a couple made a month, but they’re always top quality and feature a host of thoughtful cultural recommendations alongside the quizzing fun.


Another easy, breezy podcast, ‘Newcomers’ basically sees loud, loquacious hosts Lauren Lapkus and Nicole Boyer delve into some film series or other pop-cultural monolith that they’ve allegedly never seen before and do a deep dive with the aid of an expert guest who acts as their guide. Presented in lengthy themed ‘series’ - eg ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Fast and the Furious’ and in 2022, the MCU - the odds are that you the listener are already reasonably acquainted with whatever’s being discussed. that is a large part of the fun, as is Lapkus and Boyer’s game willing to go really deep - their ‘LOTR’ adventures included listening to the 1978 radio version, and even trying their hands at Dungeons & Dragons.

Another really meaty drama in podcast form, ‘Homecoming’ is a serial thriller that features a proper celebrity cast headed by Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer. The short, punchy, expensively wrought episodes follow the story of Keener’s Heidi, a caseworker from an experimental facility treating psychologically damaged combat veterans, including Isaac’s Walther Cruz. ‘Homecoming’ is some years old now and begat a TV series of the same name with an even starrier cast. That probably outstayed its welcome: the OG ‘Homecoming’ is white knuckle perfection.


Another fun trivia podcast, this time from the American magazine Popular Science, the USP here is that rather than the more traditional format of nerds bringing in their own obscure duelling factoids to the table, here listeners pose questions that host Claire Maldarelli and producer Jess Boddy must answer. It’s a simple idea, but thanks to the thoughtfulness, thoroughness and - naturally - good humour brought to bear, even the weirdest enquires yield rewarding answers. Did food taste better 50 years ago? What does space smell like? Find out here!

This murder mystery podcast has its origins on Snapchat of all places, where the interactive features of the multimedia messaging app allowed followers to take a stab at solving dozens of imagined murder mysteries. Clearly, you can’t do that with a podcast, but the excellent season one of ‘Solve’ (the podcast) featured a different murder each week, with a clue-laden first section followed by a break for listeners to try and figures out who they think did it - perfect for a bit of back and forth with your travel companions on a long journey.


Drummer for The Roots and all-around genial dude Questlove has a delightful music-based podcast, perfect for whiling away the miles. The format of what Questlove describes as ‘a Black, nerd version of NPR’ is pretty simple: he chats –geekily, but entertainingly – with some big musical icon or other about their life and times. What makes it really stand out is the intensive research he does – he reckons he listens to about 200 songs per episode – and the accompanying, integrated mixtape is what really elevates the show. It’s very much based on Questlove’s hip-hop and soul-based musical tastes, but while it’s maybe not going to be a destination for, say, metal fanatics, it’s a very classy listen.


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