The way I consume media has changed dramatically over the years. It’s been a hot minute since SVV and I last had cable, so most of our “TV” is done via streaming services on our computers; and to be honest, we go weeks at a time without watching a single TV show or movie. Instead, I’m all about podcasts and audiobooks these days. Back when I was a commuter, I listened to The Howard Stern Show on my daily drive to San Francisco (and later Nashville) for the in-depth celebrity interviews before we canceled our Sirius-XM membership after a dramatic price hike a decade into our membership. Around that time, however, podcasts started to become popular, and I became an instant fan. And so, with the holidays, around the corner, I’m rounding up the best podcasts for road trips, according to me. But these are also all great for daily chores, short drives and at your work desk, too!
Whether you like true crime or inspirational business speak, I’ve got a recommendation for you. And if you’re more of an audiobook kind of listener, I highly suggest an Audible membership—it’s free for the first 30 days, so why not try it to see if you like it?—and starting with bestseller Bad Blood about Elizabeth Holmes’ decade-long deception. I’m currently listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama (who also narrates) and have Hillbilly Elegy in the queue next. I also recently invested in AirPods, with which I am obsessed; they’re a total game-changer in my podcast-listening routine while doing house work and home renovation!
Serial was the first massively popular true-crime podcast that put pods on people’s radar, and I lapped it up just like the rest of America. With NPR’s Ira Glass as editorial advisor, Serial’s first season follows Adnan Syed’s unjust arrest for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee 20 years ago and the second focuses on U.S. special ops defector Bowe Bergdahl who was held captive in Afghanistan by the Taliban for five years. The third season, however, comprises stand-alone episodes from a courtroom in Clevelend, Ohio, and I just couldn’t get through it. If you’re a legal professional, perhaps you’ll dig it, but it didn’t hold my attention. That said, any true-crime newbie who hasn’t listened to Serial should start their podcast education right there with the first two seasons. The host is This American Life alum Sarah Koenig, whose voice borders on annoying and patronizing at times—I cringe the way she pronounces “Muslim” every time—but you can’t deny she’s a damn good reporter. In fact, Serial brought Adnan’s case into the public eye—and back into the courtroom—after he was convicted and sentenced for life in prison back in 2000. You can then follow-up with the murder investigation in a small Alabama town via S-Town, also by Serial Productions.
Length: 3 seasons (35 episodes, including follow-ups)
My favorite season: season 1
After Serial came S-Town, followed by Wondery’s Dirty John, written and produced by LA Times’ Christopher Goddard and which chronicled a pathological liar and psychopath who wormed his way into the heart and life of a wealthy Southern Californian interior designer. Listen to the entire series and then dig deep into the Newell family, as a lot has been written about them in recent years, and then watch the Bravo show based on the pod that stars Connie Britton and Eric Bana (now streaming on Netflix). It’s really well-done, but may seem corny to those who haven’t listened to the real Debra Newell and her daughters speak first.
Length: 1 season (7 episodes)
On the heels of Dirty John’s success, Wondery put out Dr. Death, an true-crime podcast that hit a little too close to home as it discusses the failed medical system, and the deranged neurosurgeon they followed, Dr. Christopher Duntsch, came out of the University of Tennessee system and went to the same private school in Memphis as my cousins. Eek! If you’re already disheartened by the state of healthcare in our country, this won’t help—but the reporting by medical journalist Laura Biel is top-notch, and I look forward to her next podcast, Bad Batch.
Length: 1 season (10 episodes)
Up and Vanished
If you like a more raw kind of podcast that isn’t overproduced, you’ll likely be a fan of Up and Vanished, which dives into the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, one of the largest case files in Georgia history. I really liked this pod in the beginning, but started to lose interest around episode 12. I feel like the host, filmmaker Payne Lindsey, could have cut out chunks of the episodes and tightened it a bit—the audio recording is also subpar in parts, particularly when he’s playing phone conversations—but I’m pretty sure he put out episodes in real time as he was investigating, so I know there’s a reason he didn’t. It’s worth sticking around, though, as this amateur detective actually manages to crack an 11-year-old cold case! If you start to feel it lags a bit, ramp up the speed of your listening device to 1.5 to get through some of the slower episodes. The episodes are fairly long, up to an hour, so Up and Vanished is a great one if you have a cross-country drive and want something continuous to listen to. I haven’t started on season two yet, which takes on a new case: the disappearance of Kristal Reisinger.
Length: 2 seasons (100 episodes, if you include the bonus eps and lives)
Conceptualized by Shay McAllister and Jessica Noll, a pair of investigative journalists out of Kentucky, and backed by Vault Studios, Bardstown explores five mysterious deaths (i.e. unsolved murders) in “the most beautiful town in America” in less than a decade. This town is around the size of Manchester—just 10,000 residents—so it definitely hit home, but it’s also a bit shocking as a fan of traveling to Bardstown. Not going to lie: These seemingly random crimes made me want to strike Bardstown off my visit list in the future. There’s also a 10-part TV series component that just launched this week, as well as an Amazon documentary about Crystal Rogers’ disappearance.
Length: 1 season (9 episodes)
I’m halfway through Cold, another true-crime show from Wondery; it explores the cold case of devout Mormon Susan Powell, who vanished in Utah a decade ago after she went camping with her psychopath husband Josh and her two small boys. Sadly, Josh killed himself and the kids, so the case ran cold as to where he hid the body (there’s no proof he killed her, but it’s the long-time speculation). It’s a riveting, in-depth listen if you have a looooong Thanksgiving drive ahead of you, but I honestly wish it were half the length it is. I do like narrator/host Dave Cawley, which is often a make-it-or-break-it for me with podcasts, so there’s that.
Length: 1 season (18 episodes)
Over My Dead Body
Yet another Wondery-produced show—are you sensing a theme?—Over My Dead Body‘s first season “Tally” follows the wedding of Dan and Wendi, two promising attorneys whose wedding is featured in the New York Times. But then everything falls apart, leading to a murder case and numerous suspects. This is a quick listen by Matthew Shaer and Eric Benson, and you can consume the whole thing on the way to and from Grandma’s house this weekend. Apparently, a second season “Joe Exotic” has since released, as well.
Length: 2 seasons (18 episodes)
Entrepreneurship, News + Tech
How I Built This
The first non-true crime podcast that drew me in was NPR and Guy Raz’s How I Built This, which dives into entrepreneurs’ backgrounds—the good, the bad, the ugly and alllll the mistakes they made along the way. There are some fascinating revelations, like the accidental founding of Airbnb via the DNC back in 2008 and how Kendra Scott became a household name. Some other businesses they profile include the founders of Warby Parker, Lyft, Patagonia, Southwest, Instagram, Samuel Adams, Lululemon, New Belgium, AOL, Kate Spade and Lonely Planet.
Length: hundreds spanning four years
My favorite episodes: Sarah Blakely (Spanx), Jeni Britton Bauer (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams), Richard Branson (Virgin), Haim Saban (Power Rangers)
After listening to the audiobook Bad Blood on a recent road trip, I became obsessed with Elizabeth Holmes all over again, so I was excited to find there’s a podcast, The Dropout, produced and hosted by ABC News’ Rebecca Jarvis that dives even deeper into the characters who made the book. You get to hear from former investors, friends, lawyers and whistleblowers who ultimately brought Theranos down. This podcast was a one-and-done season and flew by way too fast in my opinion, but I imagine as court proceedings get going, they’ll circle back and add updates.
Length: 1 season (6 episodes)
My favorite episode: “The Whistleblower”
My favorite grab bag of all things Internet and current events, Reply All is the podcast I’ll listen to first when a new episode pops up in my queue. Hosted by Gimlet Media’s PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, it’s simply hysterical, educational and informative. I typically prefer the episodes when they put on their investigative hats and crack a code—like robocallers, phantom calls or stealing Snapchat handles—but I also like some of the Yes, Yes, No segments, such as The Year of the Wallop (#134) that goes into extensive detail on Harry Potter.
Length: 150+ episodes
My favorite episode: #102 and 103, “Long Distances,” Parts I and II
I’ve just started listening to this show about pyramid schemes and multilevel marketing, and I’m fascinated—I have so many friends and acquaintances who peddle Mary Kay, Rodan + Fields, essential oils, whatever lash extension product is the hot one for the month. I’ve never purchased from an MLM, but The Dream goes into deep detail about how they began, how they work and why you should be wary of them. Look, I’m in no business to judge how someone else makes a living, but I’m tired of “friends” making thinly-veiled attempts to hire me as a consultant for their business, only to find out on our discovery call they weren’t actually hiring me at all but trying to bring me into their “team” of R+F sellers (*eye roll*). I’ve blocked several Facebook friends for such shady activity, and it’s simply not the way to be a successful entrepreneur.
Length: 1 season (11 episodes), season 2 launching season
My favorite episode: start from the beginning
I don’t listen to the New York Times‘ podcast hosted by Michael Barbaro that much—true to its name, it airs daily on weekdays—but when there’s a good guest on, I’m all on it. Thanks to all of you who alerted me this week that Mayor Pete was on, as that was 40 minutes well spent! For political junkies or those who want to keep up with the news in an audio format, The Daily is the podcast for you. Most episodes are 20 minutes, so they’re perfect for commuters with a short drive to work.
Length: hundreds of episodes
My favorite episode: Pete Buttigieg, duh
Revisionist History is for history buffs and academics—and those like me who occasionally dabble in one or the other (or both). From Malcolm Gladwell and Pushkin Industries, Revisionist History takes on an oft-controversial topic from the past and reinterprets it, be it a black Georgia man who was arrested, arraigned, indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair for the murder of a white man all in 24 hours (“Mr. Hollowell Didn’t Like That”) or a painting by a female artists in the 19th century that ties into today’s political climate and female leaders (“The Lady Vanishes”). I won’t say this is my favorite, go-to podcast—mainly because I find it a bit dense sometimes and my attention starts to wander—but when a topic arises that I’m interested in, I always enjoy it. SVV is not a huge podcast consumer, but this is one he’ll actually listen to with me.
Length: 4 seasons (41 episodes)
My favorite episode: “Divide and Conquer” (the complete, unabridged history of the world’s most controversial semicolon!)
I binged the entire first season of Curbed’s Nice Try! over the weekend while finishing up the Victorian, and the first season is a fascinating look into the concept of Utopias, and why they never work. This is interesting for any lovers of history, urban planning, architecture or just random facts, as host Avery Trufelman covers everything from John Smith and the toll Jamestown took on both the English and Native Americans to Hitler’s Germania to the early-1900s novel Herland, which went on to inspire Wonder Woman’s Themyscira (or Paradise Island). An inquisitive and engaging host always draws me into such a pod, and Trufelman is just that. I’d listen to anything she put out based on this first season of Nice Try! alone.
Length: 1 season (8 episodes)
My favorite episode: “Biosphere 2: The Theater of Utopia”
Pop Culture + Lifestyles
Dolly Parton’s America
Where do I even begin with this one? It’s phenomenal. It’s inspirational. It’s everything Dolly you need in your life. And it’s produced/hosted by Nashville native and Radiolab founder Jad Abumrad. Jad and his team go deep into what makes Dolly such a cultural phenomenon who bridges cultural, racial, political, generational and gender divides. The best part? Dolly herself appears in each episode, as she sat down in a studio with Jad and answered all of his questions. Friends have said Dolly Parton’s America is “too slow in parts” or “overproduced” or that the host inserts himself too much into the story, but I disagree: I love everything about it.
Length: 1 season (9 episodes)
My favorite episode: “I Will Always Leave You” (episode 3)
Other than Dolly, this is my favorite new podcast of the year, and it’s not just because I was a guest! Kim Baldwin (aka the Blonde Mule) is an excellent interviewer, and she and her producer Mary Katherine Rooker in addition to the We Own This Town team have put so much thought, planning and heart into this podcast about female entrepreneurs that it shows. The premise of Ladyland is that we don’t truly ever know what our friends do, so Kim has set out to sit down with dozens of her peers to get to the essence of what drives them. She’s had everyone from fitness professionals to lobbyists, Reba McEntire’s tour manager to bestselling authors. And every single episode is as fascinating as the last! We Own This Town has a dozen podcasts, and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of them, starting with Art Heist. You can listen to my episode below if you like (or download it in your preferred podcast app).
Length: 1 season (7 episodes) with the second in the works
My favorite episode: a tie between Freya West (burlesque performer) and Tisha Wilson (nurse and twerk instructor)
A Beautiful Mess
A Beautiful Mess cofounders Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman started their blog within a month of mine, so I’ve always felt we were kindred spirits. These bad-ass entrepreneurs have a handful of successful apps, cookbooks, Airbnb rentals and of course, a wildly-successful blog. So when they announced they were releasing A Beautiful Mess podcast, no one jumped on board more quickly than me. It’s still in its infancy, but every episode feels like listening to my long-time friends talk about life, home renovation and entrepreneurial endeavors like starting short-term rentals. They’re short, at around 30 minutes each, and a great way to pass the time in the car or when you’re doing chores. If you’re looking for more straight-up home renovation tips, try John and Sherry’s Young House Love podcast.
Length: currently in season 1
My favorite episode: “Forever Homes”
Be There in 5
One of my favorite Instagram personalities, Kate Kennedy is a breath of fresh air, not to mention just plain hilarious—a former marketing pro, she made it big off of her witty line of doormat reminders, dubbed of course Remindoormats, and also has a popular children’s book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Social Media Star. She talks incessantly about pop culture, and even though I’ve never seen an episode of Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules or any of those other reality shows, I still listen and find myself rolling at her witty repartee. In truth, I first found her thanks to our shared Taylor Swift fandom, but even non-Swifties will dig her insight into the music industry. Follow her on Instagram to get to know her style and then start listening to the podcast, Be There in Five. Kate is also very loquacious, meaning many of her episodes last anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours—she’s a real toe-tapper, that one, so buckle up and get ready.
Length: 90+ episodes
My favorite episode: any of the Taylor episodes, obviously
The Socratic Dialogues
I was introduced to artist Kristin Llamas by fellow art-loving pal, Leigh, and we had all the instant connections, from our names to our ages to our love for art and ampersands. Well, listen to our episode together below and you’ll see! What I love about Kristin is she’s a skilled artist in the pure sense of the word, but she’s also very philosophical so each episode of her The Socratic Dialogues starts out with asking the guest how they relate to their name, then goes into the question of the day. Mine was exploring “what is community?” but she’s also done segments on truth, creativity, wonder, love, balance and more.
Length: 12 episodes and counting
My favorite episode: I can’t pick a favorite as I have too many friends who have been guests! Listen to them all … starting with mine 😉
Who doesn’t love Dax Sheppard? The guy is a comedic genius, but he’s also very introspective and a great interviewer, which makes his pod Armchair Expert, which “celebrates the messiness of being a human,” equal parts charming, hilarious and thoughtful. Plus! He brings on a whole host of celebrities you love, from Emilia Clarke to Martina McBride, Monica Lewinsky to Andrew Zimmern. If you weren’t already on the Dax train before his podcast, I guarantee you will be now. Note: Most episodes exceed two hours, so these are best consumed when you have a long drive ahead of you.
Length: 160 episodes and counting
My favorite episode: Kristen Bell—not only is she one of my favorite actresses, but it’s fun hearing him interview his wife!
Food + Spirits
Dads Drinking Bourbon
A podcast straight out of Franklin, Tennessee, Dads Drinking Bourbon is quite literally what it sounds like: a pair of dads, John Edwards and Zeke Baker, doing deep-dives into the Tennessee and Kentucky spirits world via interviews with distillers and other prominent people in the industry. They also feature new releases and talk about products in depth, so for those of you wanting to learn more about whiskey, bourbon and rye, here’s your shot!
Length: 130+ episodes
All of the above podcasts are available for free in your podcast app. Looking for books to read over the holidays? I’ve got plenty of book recommendations, too. I’ve also got these podcasts in my queue to listen to in the future:
- Bad Batch
- Detective Trapp
- Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness
- Creative Rebels
- The Clearing
- Ask Me Another
- The Shrink Next Door
- My Favorite Murder
- Making Obama
- Making Beyonce
- The Moment When
- Happy Face
- The Wilderness
- 22 Hours: An American Nightmare
- Cocaine & Rhinestones
- Out of Line
- Your Own Backyard
- Dear Franklin Jones
What are your personal favorite podcasts for road trips, but also just for day-to-day listening?