This article was published in the Travel section of The Boston Globe in November 2014.
LONDON — As I journeyed through the Hungarian countryside, on a slow train to Croatia, I had few options for entertainment. Reading for more than a few minutes in the backward-facing seat made me queasy. I grew weary of small talk with the older woman sitting across the aisle from me and, of course, Wi-Fi was unavailable on an old Eastern European train.
Luckily, I had downloaded several podcasts and saved them to my phone. Previous train journeys had taught me to be prepared with some form of audio entertainment. I learned my lesson after a 10-hour ride from Amsterdam to Berlin, with nothing but my Kindle and the company of several drunk teenagers in my compartment.
I love music, but it doesn’t seem to help pass time faster on long journeys and doesn’t always distract me from my thoughts. I enjoy listening to podcasts not only for entertainment, but also because they are enormously educational. Lately, I’ve been listening to loads of travel-themed podcasts, which help me plan trips and figure out what to do in the cities I visit. The resources available for free is truly amazing. On that seven-hour ride from Budapest to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, I listened to several podcasts produced by seasoned travelers. They shared insider tips and recommended attractions in and near the city.
Before my trip overseas, I had started to get into podcasts as an alternative form of entertainment in general. They replaced music in my headphones on my hourlong morning bus commute, and I listened to them in the car with my dad when I visited my hometown. At first, I listened exclusively to “This American Life,” and then I discovered other NPR podcasts. Now I believe podcasts are better than the radio broadcasts, because you can choose exactly what you want to hear and rewind or replay whenever you want.
It didn’t occur to me how many podcasts are actually out there until a few months ago. According to Macworld.com, Apple reported 1 billion podcast subscriptions, more than 8 million individual episodes, and 250,000 unique podcasts in 2013. When I discovered the iTunes podcast app on my phone, I was overwhelmed by all of the choices out there. I asked my Facebook friends to recommend their favorites, and I began to do independent research. At the time, I was preparing for my long solo trip, so my search terms usually included something to do with travel.
The first thing I stumbled on was a newly released series called “The Budget-Minded Traveler.” The introductory episode was inspirational, as I learned the background story of podcast creator Jackie Laulanien, a seasoned traveler, blogger, author, and website producer.
Then there’s “Indie Travel Podcast” by New Zealanders Linda and Craig Martin, a couple who have been traveling nearly nonstop since 2006, and who host a website and publish travel guides.
Some travel podcasts consist of travel stories told by the show’s producers, while others include interviews with local experts, such as tour guides, and solo female backpackers, who have written books on the topic. I spent a lot of time listening to various accounts of solo female travel before I left home. I was nervous about going alone and listening to the stories of my fellow women adventurers helped me gain confidence and feel safe as I embarked on my journey.
Another perk? It’s easy to take notes in my travel journal because my hands are free.
This traveler highly recommends delving into the wide world of podcasts for anyone planning a journey. Whether it’s a one-hour drive or a six-month overseas adventure, podcasts can give you earfuls of help.
Anna Marden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.