“It’s the journey that counts” is a cliché that gets trundled out often. Sound advice, perhaps, but it’s hard to really grasp its meaning when most long trips take place high in the sky—earplugs in, eye mask on, praying that we’ll find a way to sleep our way from New York to New Zealand and back again. Here, Harriet Fitch Little rounds up five podcast episodes in which people find more hands-on ways of traveling. Using trains, vans and violins, these storytellers will inspire you to find adventure along the way.
The Famous First Screech
Mountain, November 2016
Mountain is an old-fashioned adventure podcast, but it’s often at its best when it finds those adventures in places you wouldn’t expect. In this episode, the writer and explorer Alastair Humphreys tells the story of the seemingly tame summer he spent busking in Spain, following in the footsteps of his literary hero, Laurie Lee. The only problem? Unlike Lee, Humphreys had never picked up a violin in his life. There are moments when this story verges on self-indulgence— Humphreys is, after all, a beggar by choice—but his desperation to earn money is genuine, as is his fear of playing in public. There’s an extra thrill in that Humphreys recorded audio of his trip as he went, meaning you can hear that “famous first screech” in all its ear-piercing glory.
The Dirtbag Diaries, January 2017
There’s a trend—at least in countries where the climate permits it—of young, creative people opting out of rent and running water in favor of living out of vans. In this episode of The Dirtbag Diaries, writer Chris Kalman recalls the years he spent living in vans while he traveled the US rock climbing. Kalman offers a rose-tinted view of life on the road, which makes sense once he reveals that he’s no longer a nomad: He traded in his van for a car (along with a family and a nine-to-five job) a few years back. “Freedom is your parents’ house disappearing in the rearview mirror as you drive west,” he recalls. The euphoria of his escape will make listeners nostalgic for the last time they felt totally free.
#144: Cheryl Strayed
Longform Podcast, June 2015
There can be few journeys as iconic as the 1,000-mile solo hike that Cheryl Strayed set out on in 1995. She was 22 years old, recently divorced, grieving the death of her mother and using heroine. Strayed’s walk took her from the Mojave Desert to Washington, and “from lost to found” as she put it in her 2012 memoir Wild. She has told her story countless times, but this 100-minute marathon interview on the Longform podcast stands out. Partly that’s because Strayed is being interviewed at home, and clearly feeling comfortable. Partly it’s because her interviewer, Max Linsky, has a rare talent for choosing questions that cut straight to the quick: “Fear. How do you deal with that?” he asks. Strayed’s answer is illuminating.
Tenzing Norgay, Who Stood on Top of the World
Horizon Line, December 2016
Atlas Obscura has been a flaky podcast producer, setting up and then abandoning two series in quick succession. It’s a pity, because the episodes it has released have delivered just the sort of off-kilter stories that fans have come to expect from the alternative travel site. On this excellent episode, host Dylan Thuras tells the story of Tenzing Norgay—the Nepali Sherpa who reached the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. It’s a story which flips the history book narrative on its head: Rather than focusing on the British conquest, we learn about the near-misses. Tenzing had been part of six missions prior to the Brits’, and was personally hoping that it would be the Swiss climbers who made it—he saw them as kindred mountain people.
The Man in Seat 61
Extra Pack of Peanuts, February 2014
The most commercial podcast on this list, Extra Pack of Peanuts, offers penny-pinching travel advice for would-be travelers. But in this episode, host Travis Sherry takes a break from his usual sky scanning to interview Mark Smith—the British creator of Seat 61, an online almanac for train travel around the world. Smith is an eloquent evangelist, making a case for rail travel that goes far beyond simple cost saving. “Trains treat you like a human,” he explains. “We’ve forgotten that travel can be enjoyable.” The only thing that lets the interview down is the crackling phone line—perhaps Smith was speeding along some far-flung track as the recording took place.