At this point in the summer — and the pandemic — the desire to escape to a place far away might be overwhelming. Even with so many borders closed, podcasts can transport you elsewhere, making them a good alternative to real, out-of-the-house travel. Here’s a collection of immersive audio experiences that are almost as immersive as exploring the great wide world out there.
If a place on a map could give a TED Talk, what would it sound like? That’s what the host Saleem Reshamwala seeks to find out in each episode of TED’s latest podcast, “Pindrop.” Join him on his global expedition for surprising, hyperlocal stories like a deep dive into the radio station in Bangkok that serves as the surrounding area’s emergency hotline, notice board and lost and found. Or meet the Mexico City-based masked vigilante protecting his fellow citizens from traffic accidents. Stop by a hardware store in Mantua Township, N.J. where paleontologists are at work excavating dinosaur bones and protecting the land from development. The show is a different kind of travel podcast — it introduces people around the world who are creatively working to make their communities better.
This NPR podcast promises to “take you places,” and since it debuted in 2017, that is exactly what it delivers. Each episode shows listeners how the same subject is perceived in different places around the world, like a cultural kaleidoscope of current events. Take one of the controversies du jour in the United States — over some people’s refusal to wear face masks. In the “From Niqab to N95” episode, the host Gregory Warner dives into how that debate is playing out in France, where, before the coronavirus made masks a public health necessity, the discussion over covering one’s face in public was highly politicized and tinged with Islamophobia.
From the studio that makes the multilingual immigrant narrative fiction podcast, “Mija,” comes yet another beautiful podcast that presents fiction and nonfiction stories from across the world. “Ochenta Stories” is a globally crowdsourced show that cobbles together dispatches from a planet in quarantine — each episode is a different audio maker’s answer to this question: “What do you want to hear after this pandemic is over?” And those who enjoy immersion language-learning will love how each story is retold in each episode, but in another language. Listeners meet an 11-year-old in Asheville, N.C., envisioning her first day back to school (told in English and Spanish); a Londoner fantasizing about the feeling of getting lost in a crowd again (told in English and French); and a couple in Milan who can’t believe how much quarantine time is spent washing one’s own dishes (Italian and English).
After several months of staring at your own four walls, you might start to feel as if you need to get away to the most remote place in the world, fast. Enter “Extremities,” a podcast that takes you on an odyssey to some of the most distant reaches on Earth. Season 1 is a six-episode journey to Pitcairn Island, a dot in the South Pacific Ocean between Chile and Australia; season 2 goes to the Svalbard archipelago between continental Norway and the North Pole; and the most recent season chronicles a sojourn to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena. Travel with the host Sam Denby to learn the histories and local legends of each territory and even have dinner with residents, all through your earbuds.
Most of us will never climb the world’s highest mountains. But if you’re curious as to how you’d go about it if you could, consider this show, an audio diary hosted by a married couple as they travel to and through Nepal and the Himalayas. In 16 episodes, Jason Moore and Anne Dorthe bring you along on every step and bump of their adventure, which unfolded in 2014; join them on their hikes and as they visit Kathmandu and Tibetan Buddhist villages. With both tribulations and transcendent moments, Moore and Dorthe grant you access to a trip of a lifetime.
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