Evan Stern is the host and creator of Vanishing Postcards – a documentary travelogue that invites listeners to ride shotgun on a road trip exploring the hidden dives and histories found by exiting the interstates. Named “one of the best podcasts of 2022” by Digital Trends, its current season finds him motoring west, cross-country on Route 66.
Eugene Fodor once said, “You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” While this is a statement I concur with and endorse, I am sympathetic to the reality that time, circumstance, and a myriad of factors don’t always make travel an easy undertaking. Towards that matter, if you don’t have the luxury of booking a flight, but find yourself in need of a momentary respite, here are some podcasts I’ve found that have the ability to transport listeners elsewhere through the simple magic of audio.
Sound of Our Town
Brought to you from the guys behind Disgraceland, Sound of our Town is hosted by award-winning indie musician Will Daley and is born out of his mission to reaffirm how important live music is to our culture. In each episode, Will takes us from the boardwalks of Asbury Park, to the biggest and smallest stages of LA, while introducing us to historic venues and secret spots through tales that speak to the nomadic traveler in all of us.
Strong Sense of Place
A must for any book lover, in each episode of Strong Sense of Place, hosts Melissa and Dave get curious about one destination and discuss what makes it different than any other place on earth. They then share recommendations for great books – novels, nonfiction, short stories and more – that take readers there on the page.
Greetings from Somewhere
Hip, thoughtful and exquisite on the ear, Greetings from Somewhere is a travel narrative from Brooklynite Zach Mack that he says “focuses not just on how travel affects us, but also on how our presence affects the places we go and the people who live there. It’s about what’s happening underneath the surface of these places we go to on road trips and don’t usually have time to dive into.” Featuring visits to Marfa, TX, Mount Rushmore and even The Magic Kingdom, it provides a fantastic counterpoint to the glossiness of vacation brochures.
The Lonely Palette
Open a guidebook in a new city and a museum of some sort is almost always ranked near the top of “must-see attractions.” In The Lonely Palette, Tamar Avishai picks a painting, and interviews unsuspecting museum visitors in front of it before providing a deep dive on the work’s history and social context. Far from stuffy, it’s a reflective listen that uses art as a means to explore our world as a whole.
Need an escape from the summer heat? Hearing UK-based author Charlie Connelly share brine-encrusted anecdotes in his podcast Coastal Stories will make you feel as if you’re strolling the cool beaches of Cornwall. Read with Charlie’s expert narration over the sounds of waves recorded on British beaches, its accounts of lighthouses, pleasure piers, cockle gatherers and sailors celebrate the joys, follies and tiny acts of heroism and kindness that illuminate the human experience in an altogether soothing listen.
The Atlas Obscura Podcast
From Josephine Baker’s French Chateau, to Harlem’s Hotel Theresa, the streets of La Paz, and Smithfield, Virginia, which is home to the “world’s oldest edible ham,” the beautifully produced Atlas Obscura Podcast bills itself as “a short, daily, celebration of the world’s strange and wondrous places.”
Each episode of this intoxicatingly charming listen finds host Brendan Francis Newnam wandering the streets of a new city with a friend as they attempt to get invited to a stranger’s house for dinner. Refreshingly casual, whether dancing in Mexico City or tracing Leonard Cohen’s footsteps in Montreal, Not Lost is a delightful escape that reveals the joys and edification one finds through travel’s unplanned moments.
Described as “a nature podcast for people who like to think big,” Out There showcases tightly woven narratives about everyday people whose lives or perspectives have changed as a result of experiences they’ve had outdoors.
A mouth-watering docu-series from The Southern Foodways Alliance, Gravy uses food as a means to explore the evolving face of the American South by giving voice to the unsung folk of the region who grow, cook and serve our daily meals.
Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala
Far Flung with Saleem Reshamwala is a journey across the globe in search of the world’s most surprising and imaginative ideas. It’s not a travel show, exactly. It’s a deep dive into the ideas that shape a particular spot on the map, brought to you by local journalists and creators. Weave through the streets of Bangkok with a motorcycle midwife. Time travel with dinosaurs behind a hardware store in New Jersey. Meet a guy who dresses up as a luchador to protect citizens from traffic in Mexico City. Drop in, listen up, and dig deep.
The podcasts I’ve listed here are all unique in their own ways. Yet they’re all created by travelers – not tourists.
Before driving Route 66, I spoke with the author Michael Wallis who said, “Tourists are in a hurry, willing to fit in as much of the ordinary and predictable as possible as long as it is safe, cheap, and by all means comfortable. Travelers on the other hand hanker for hidden places. They are flexible, curious, and ready to discover new things and in so doing perhaps discover something new about themselves.”
While I’m not above the occasional comforts of a chain hotel, these are words I tried to keep in mind in developing Vanishing Postcards and hope you’ll ride along with me as we’ll explore how the past, present, and future of Steinbeck’s “Mother Road” are revealed through the people and places found in driving it today.