Whether it’s a gripping true-crime story or an extended interview with your favorite celebrity, podcasts make an excellent travel companion on long car trips. But podcasts can also help you learn about the places you’re going—or maybe the places that are still on your list to visit.
Here are 10 podcasts that provide a deeper understanding of regional American culture, from the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South. Add one or more to the playlist for your next road trip to immerse yourself in the stories of the places that are flashing by your car window.
The Dirtbag Diaries
This is Patagonia’s podcast about the outdoors, particularly the Mountain West. The show is filled with stories of adventure on mountains, rivers, and more. While some outdoor lifestyle shows geek out about gear and technique, The Dirtbag Diaries keeps the focus on the humans at the center of each story. Nature is a character, but not the star of the show. The focus remains on people and how nature changes our relationships with each other, which makes each episode even more compelling.
The Bitter Southerner
The podcast from The Bitter Southerner magazine, in collaboration with Georgia Public Broadcasting, explores what it means to live in the South in all its complexity. It takes a fresh look at some of the region’s well-known tropes, from southern accents to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to food like okra. There’s an episode on Waffle House that sticks with me a couple years after I originally heard it in early 2020. After you listen, I guarantee you won’t think about the iconic chain the same way again.
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This show from The Oregonian is the most straightforward travel show on the list. Each episode explores something different to do in Oregon and the broader Pacific Northwest. It’s a must-listen if you’re traveling to that part of the country. Learn about overlooked state parks, where to go crabbing on the Oregon coast, and Portland’s dining scene. Even people who live in this region can uncover something new from hosts Jamie Hale and Jim Ryan, as well as the experts they interview.
Black in Appalachia
The Appalachian region technically consists of 13 states from New York to Mississippi and has received a ton of media coverage since the 2016 presidential election. Stories typically focus on white, working-class people and ignore the experiences of Black people living in those places. The Black in Appalachia podcast changes that by centering Black voices and breaking apart cultural and historical stereotypes. Episodes explore the myth of John Henry and the history of Black music from freed and escaped slaves in the region.
New Jersey Is the World
If you ever wanted to put New Jersey into a podcast, this is it. Unlike some of the other shows on this list, New Jersey Is the World is not filled with rich sound design or engaging narrative storytelling. Rather, comedian Chris Gethard hosts conversations about what makes the Garden State so great. He leans into the state’s stereotypes and isn’t afraid to talk about things that need to change. Whether you already love New Jersey like Gethard does or are just N.J.-curious, there’s something for you here.
Driving the Green Book
Traveling in the United States has not always been easy, particularly for people of color. This podcast traces the route that Black Americans traveled from Detroit to New Orleans when they were on tour in the Jim Crow era. The Green Book is the handbook of Black-friendly businesses and other safe havens along the route. The show includes an Apple Maps component so you can follow along the route and see what’s become of the locations in The Green Book today.
Threshold is the perfect show to get lost in on a long stretch of highway. Rather than focusing on one region, it covers our relationship to nature in an immersive way. Each episode is filled with natural sound and rich storytelling. The show’s third season, which won a Peabody Award in 2021, features reporting from Kaktovik, Alaska, the only town in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a place at the center of the controversy over drilling for oil there.
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Dolly Parton’s America
This show received lots of buzz when it debuted in 2019, and with good reason. It’s a story about Tennessee, but also about American culture more broadly and Dolly Parton’s place within it. Travel inside what the creators call the “Dollyverse”—the world that Parton created and the one she and her fans inhabit. It’s complicated and far from perfect, but the idea of Dolly as a uniting figure is worth exploring as you traverse parts of the country that might be different from where you live.
Makers of the USA
One of the best things about traveling is finding the off-the-beaten-path places that make something unique that you can take home as a souvenir—and that will give you a story you’ll tell for years to come. The podcast Makers in the USA puts a spotlight on artists and artisans from Maine to Maryland. Learn about how they started their businesses and how they connect with their communities. Episodes cover everything from candles to gourd banjos to razors and also discuss how these creators survive in an ever-changing economy and grow their businesses while maintaining artisan craftsmanship.
Welcome to LA
No list of travel shows would be complete without mentioning the Golden State. Many people find themselves in California, and Los Angeles specifically, because they see it as a beacon of the American Dream. As you might expect, things are not that simple. Award-winning journalist David Weinberg highlights the complexities in this series from public radio station KCRW. One particularly moving episode chronicles what happens on Friday nights across the city, both before and after the early days of COVID-19.
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