While widespread leisure travel may still remain a pipe dream for now, the past year has seen a proliferation of virtual experiences that transport you – however figuratively – to many wondrous far-off places.
From tours of world-class museums such as the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museum and the Rijksmuseum; to being able to get up-close and personal with animals at a myriad of different zoos; to being able to glimpse stunning Unesco World Heritage Sites using 3D-mapping technology, these platforms have the ability to get us as close to the real thing as logistically possible until international borders fully open up again.
If you’re looking for an aural rather than visual escapade, though, there are a plethora of podcasts that let you explore the world from the comfort and safety of your home – all you need to do is kick back, close your eyes, press play and unlock your imagination. Be it an exploration of the many kooky cultural quirks of Japan to a jaunt through some of England’s most gorgeous gardens and landscapes, here are a few to check out.
1. National Trust
An initiative by the National Trust, an organisation dedicated to the heritage conservation of the United Kingdom’s historic buildings and landscapes, this evocative podcast – which spans four series – takes listeners on tours of some of the country’s most storied sites. Tour Agatha Christie’s old stomping grounds in Devon where she retreated to during the holidays; head out on an idyllic gander through the barren plains of the Lake District in winter; explore the unique wildlife that calls the Isle of Wight home; and journey along with a ranger on a foraging trail for edible nettles, juicy berries and more – all without leaving the comfort of your living room.
2. Far Flung
Far Flung (previously known as Pindrop), a TED original podcast, sees intrepid host Saleem Reshamwala travel the globe in search of some of the most intriguing ideas that different cultures and cities have to offer. Follow along through the bustling streets of Bangkok to find out more about how a local radio station doubles up as an emergency hotline, lost and found and community noticeboard all at once; learn more about a joyous art movement in Nairobi, Kenya, that challenges prevailing narratives of the country; and journey to New Jersey in the United States and listen along as residents try to stop a prehistoric graveyard from being turned into an apartment complex.
3. Uncanny Japan
Japanophiles who want to find out more about its history and culture: this is the podcast for you. Hosted by Thersa Matsuura, an author and American immigrant who has spent over half her life living in a small fishing town in Japan, Uncanny Japan explores the various superstitions, traditions, folktales, customs and language quirks that are woven into the storied fabric of Japanese culture. These include diving into the history of the oiran, a high-ranking courtesan similar in appearance to a geisha; a primer on the Bon Odori summer festival; and an examination of food superstitions, such as why you shouldn’t eat crab and watermelon together.
4. America’s National Parks
While the United States’ sprawling national parks may be out of reach for many of us at the moment, this story-based podcast gives listeners an inside and in-depth look at the events, people and nature that have shaped the parks into what they are today. Topics range from the quirky (such as an episode that touches on a store at Yellowstone National Park’s Upper Geyser Basin that the owner has wallpapered with hundreds of cancelled checks) to the heart-wrenching (how climate change is utterly ravaging the parks’ flora and fauna) to the educational (an examination of the Great American Outdoors Act and how it will impact the parks).
5. The Splendid Table
Hosted by acclaimed American food journalist Francis Lam and produced by American Public Media, The Splendid Table takes listeners on a culinary voyage through the United States and beyond. While it may not be a travel podcast per se, the show spotlights some of the country’s best restaurants specialising in all manner of global cuisines and interviews renowned chefs from around the world, including the likes of Samin Nosrat, Yotam Ottolenghi and René Redzepi. Standout episodes include a deep dive into the regional flavours of Thailand and America’s Thai restaurants, as well as an exploration of global breads – from New York bagels to Ethiopian injera.
6. Afropop Worldwide
Produced by National Public Radio, this Peabody Award-winning weekly podcast offers a guide to the rich and complex music cultures of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. From the ancient past to the present day, find out more about how these beats, tunes and refrains form an integral part of – and in some cases define – a myriad of societies around the world. Episodes transport you to a lively music festival in Abidjan, the musical hub and capital city of Ivory Coast; bring you along on Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo’s tour of the United States in 1991; and take you to Miami for this year’s edition of Afro Roots Fest.
7. Field Recordings
Bring the outdoors in with this ingenious podcast dreamt up by British producer Eleanor McDowall, in which various audio creators and sound artists were tasked with going out into the world and simply recording the everyday sounds of their surroundings. Far from being quotidian, though, each episode offers a meditative immersion into different locales through ambient noise. Need to wind down before bed? Tune into the sound of small waves gently lapping against the rocks on one of the last days of summer in Finland. Feel like listening to the sounds of nature as you go about your morning routine? You can queue up a track of the soothing sound of birds chirping on a misty morning in England.
8. The Bitter Southerner
If you’re hoping to discover more about the American South, you’ve come to the right place. With the aim of spotlighting the many complexities of the region, The Bitter Southerner explores this often misunderstood and stereotyped slice of the country through interviews with politicians, musicians, farmers, chefs, innovators and change-makers. Find out more about the politics of baking in the region; get schooled on the culinary history of okra, a vegetable that’s connected Southerners across the lines of race, faith, and gender for centuries; and journey to Clarkston, Georgia, which functioned as the first American home for more than 60,000 refugees across three decades.
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This article was originally published on 17 October 2020 and updated on 30 May 2021.