I listen to an insane amount of podcasts. In a typical day, I’ll consume three hours or more of shows, and I’ve done this for almost…gulp…ten years. (I started this habit in the spring of 2008). I listen to a variety of genres, covering history, marketing, social media, book reviews, photography, and news (Meet The Press makes for delightful podcasting from abroad).
Super nerd facts: I went to the first live Slate Political Gabfest in 2009, a live taping of Stuff You Should Know in Philadelphia in 2015 (and framed the poster), and the first History of Rome tour in 2011. So yeah, I might have a problem.
Of all the different shows I listen to, some of my favorites are ones that inspire future travel plans or help me out with destination information when I’m on a trip. Here are the podcasts (all 18 of these, in alphabetical order) that I have used for travel inspiration and planning over the past ten years. (Note: these podcasts are all free. Links are to the podcast websites where I can find them. I subscribe to podcasts in iTunes, but you can subscribe multiple other ways).
Amateur Traveler Travel Podcast
Chris Christensen’s weekly show covering a different destination every week. He has over 500 episodes out, so you can pretty much find something to cover any place you’re thinking about going. For each show, he interviews someone (blogger, local, traveler) who knows the destination intimately enough to offer an in-depth overview of travel to the destination. I like to download episodes related to my planned trips (or even while I’m there) to help plan out my itinerary. Sometimes I’ll listen to episodes that peak my interest for places I haven’t planned, and it helps me keep an eye on it for down the road. This podcast helped immensely with my trips to Cyprus and Greece last year, and I’ve been dreaming of Mozambique since listening to that episode last fall.
The Book Review
This is the New York Time’s book review podcast interviewing authors and critics. I love listening to book reviews and audio book clubs – it’s the main way I find books to read. If an author’s interview sparks my interest, I’ll dive right in. Last year they had an interview with the author of “The Romanovs” that got me convinced that I need to make it to Russia asap (aiming for September!). Not finalized yet, but in the works.
This one is actually something I just added last week. I was looking for some good shows on the history of Budapest/Hungary before I got here. I found an awesome explainer on the fall of Budapest at the end of World War II. This shows is aimed at students, but I found it was just as interesting for a history enthusiast with no exam to prep for. Covers mostly modern European and American history.
I’ve waxed poetic about Hardcore History before. This show is the number one reason that Mongolia the top entry on my bucket list. This podcast would be my absolute favorite of all time, but it comes out pretty infrequently. He basically drops a 5 hr audiobook on you once every 4-6 months. In between, I listen to old ones repeatedly until I have them memorized. If I ever become a billionaire, my number one priority would be giving him enough money where he can just do the podcast fulltime/keep him on retainer to answer all my personal history questions. A girl can dream, right?
History Extra Podcast
The BBC History Magazine’s weekly podcast, featuring interviews with authors and historians with a particularly British bent. Lots of great European history mixed with the occasional world history, but sometimes they go deep into something super British (made-up example: the history of crumpet-eating in Cornwall). Each episode has two topics about twenty-thirty minutes each. This morning I was listening to an interview about the last days of Czar Nicholas II combined with a discussion about misconceptions of ancient Egypt. So like, basically my heaven. I used this podcast a lot while in London last year, but they cover lots of other countries’ history as well.
The History of Byzantium
This show picks up where The History of Rome leaves off, and it’s ::shocking:: a podcast that covers the history of the Byzantine empire. I’ve used it a ton in the last year, since I’ve spent so much time in the shadow of the Byzantine empire while in Cyprus, Greece, and Bulgaria. Also covers a lot of Bulgarian history, which I find immensely interesting now that I’m spending so much time there.
History of English Podcast
This show doesn’t help me plan trips so much as help me not feel bad when I’m on them. Since I speak no foreign languages (I tried so hard guys, but none of them stuck), I got super interested in the history of English instead. So yeah, I can’t speak Russian, German, or Spanish no matter how many hours I took, but I can tell you what Frisian is and that all East Germanic languages are now extinct. I started on my love of English language history via The Tolkein Professor podcast and I think that this podcast also introduced me (via an interview) to Micahel Drout’s modern scholar course on the history of English. I then listened to everything Michael Drout has ever put out in audio form. When I exhausted all Drout’s works, I discovered Kevin Stroud’s podcast. And huzzah! It goes even more thoroughly through the history with lots of vocabulary examples. So yes, I only speak one language. But I really, really appreciate the one language I do speak.
The History of Rome
This show is now over (sad!), but all the archives are on iTunes (yay!). As I mentioned in the intro, I actually went on my first real international trip because of this podcast. The author, Mike, had a tour of Rome and Istanbul, and I impulsively signed up. Listening to free shows from iTunes can change your life, for reals.
A History of the World in 100 Objects
This show is also over, but you can download all the episodes and check them out. The British Museum put this show together, covering human history with 100 objects from their collection. Each episode is short but compelling, and you can see the objects they’re describing. I didn’t have time to go to the British Museum when I was in London in 2015, but next time I’m there I’m going to camp out there for a while and track some of these down.
In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg hosts this weekly in-depth show covering topics from the arts and sciences. He interviews three scholars about the week’s topic, and the discussions go further than you’d expect from a one-hour show. This is a show where I listen to new episodes in large batches, and then when I go somewhere I go and download old pertinent episodes to re-listen. For this trip to Hungary I checked out the recent episode on Hannah Arendt. In Philadelphia in January, I reviewed the episode about Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. And when I was in Greece, I checked out past episodes on Thucydides and Plato’s Symposium. Oh and Melvyn Bragg recently published his own history of English, which is sitting in my Audible queue.
New Books Network
I found this podcast while searching for more Timothy Snyder interviews (I can’t get enough of them). I used to just subscribe to the Eastern European Studies channel, but I’ve expanded so I’m subscribed to the main one and get episodes from every genre. Each episode is an hour-long interview with an author of a new book of academic scholarship, so you get interesting interviews from authors who don’t typically break through to the mainstream. This week I went back and listened to an episode on Hungarian Jews during the holocaust, and I used it in Slovakia to learn the history of the country before I spent my one day there. There are about sixty episodes a month, so I cut a lot of them, holding on to the ones that spark my interest. I love letting this podcast build up and then listening to a bunch while I walk or on travel days. Great recent episodes include the psychology of love, the history of Eastern German authors during the cold war, a history of My Little Ponies 1981-2916, and a history of a black art school during apartheid South Africa.
Lars Brownworth’s 12 Byzantine Rulers (below) was a very popular podcast in the early days of podcasting. A few years after that show came out, he recorded Norman Centuries, explaining how a sect of Vikings ended up becoming Normans and controlling large swaths of Europe. Everything Lars touches is good. This was helpful on my trip to Cyprus, which was temporarily under control of Richard the Lion-Hearted, one of the Normans who was also King of England. Lars’s podcasts usually coincide with a published book, so if you get to the end of one of his podcasts and want more (I always do) you can grab the audiobook that covers more.
When Mike Duncan ended the History of Rome, he went on to do this show. He takes different revolutions and discusses their history, causes, and aftermath. Currently he’s covering Bolivar’s revolution against the Spanish. The show wasn’t out when I was in Quito in 2014, but it’s fun to learn more about places you’ve already traveled. I’ll be revisiting this series next time I go to South America. He’s also covered the revolutions in England, America, France, and Haiti.
Here’s another nerd fact: in high school, I could name all the Kings and Queens of England in order. I can’t anymore, but I was totally geeking out in Windsor Castle looking at all their portraits. Rex Factor covers all the Kings and Queens in order, grading them at the end of the episodes. If you can’t tell your Charles I from your Charles II, this is a great place to go.
Rick Steves’ Podcasts
This is a family of podcasts, and they’re all so Rick-Stevesy and wonderful. I download all pertinent talks and audiotours before I go anywhere. His audiotorus were invaluable in Vienna and I’ve been drinking more wine in Hungary due to one of his interviews. Who doesn’t want Rick Steves to walk you around Europe on your smartphone?
Slate Audiobook Club
I love listening to this show, whether I’ve read the book or not. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books ever on this show (see: A Visit from the Goon Squad). Sometimes I listen to the episode and then read the book, but sometimes I’m good and read the book first. Which is why I have to read Wild before I’m allowed to listen to that ep. I used the episode on Killer Angels when putting together my post-Gettysburg reading recommendations.
Slate Culture Gabfest
Slate has a lot of podcasts, and I’ve listened to most of them at some time or another. The Culture Gabfest is the place to get culture, literature, and pop culture recommendations. So even though sometimes they get things so wrong (they blew it on Game of Thrones), it’s a great way to get recommendations for new books, movie, and television. It’s also literally the reason I started driving in foreign countries (thank you, Julia).
12 Byzantine Rulers
Lars Brownworth’s first popular history show, covering twelve of the most consequential emperors and empresses from Byzantium. This podcast skips through time to cover the thousand-year empire episodically. This is a great way to understand the empire if you want to understand how they went from the Roman Empire to being conquered by the Turks without going as granular as the History of Byzantium. This podcast is a large part of why I was super-geeking out about Justinian when I went to Istanbul in 2011.
I love podcasts! If I missed any that help you, let me know!