I was looking back at my photos from my travels last year and I quickly noticed a pattern: I’m almost always wearing headphones. And I’ve never explained why they seem to be my favourite accessory.
It’s because I’m listening to podcasts – literally, all the time.
I’ve always had anxiety.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a lot of coping strategies to be able to travel the way I do. One is having an amazing therapist who’s willing to battle time zones to FaceTime me. Another is podcasts.
I discovered podcasts in the summer of 2017 (late, I know). Myths and Legends was the reason I ever opened the purple app on my phone. I listened constantly: heading to the gym, going to work, leaving work, during my runs.
Before I left for Europe, I found Stuff You Should Know (SYSK). The podcast’s catalogue of over 1,000 episodes was probably the reason I made it through those first few months of my trip.
By December, my phone was almost entirely podcasts (the rest was pictures of Christmas markets).
December and Podcasts
December was a difficult month for me last year.
I’d had to leave my work away in Berlin after a week, find a new apartment and totally screw with my budget. Suddenly, I was alone in an apartment in Wedding.
But I still had podcasts.
I think it took until December for me to realize my reliance on podcasts, in part, because I hadn’t really been alone until then. For October and November, I’d been staying in airbnb rooms, living with families, visiting with my mom or working with other people.
In Berlin, I finally noticed how much of the silence I was filling with the buttery tones of Jason Weiser sharing African folklore or Josh and Chuck’s easy banter about their 80s nostalgia.
For a while, I hid it – even from my therapist (which is literally the BIGGEST therapy no-no). I casually mentioned that I’d been listening to podcasts. I spouted off interest cat facts to anyone who would listen, but I didn’t share that I was running through at least eight one-hour episodes a day.
I thought I was some sort of podcast addict (where was I going to find a podcast-aholics anonymous in Berlin??).
Podcasts as Coping
In mid-December, I finally told my therapist.
I expected her to be shocked at this mental health setback; surely it wasn’t normal to be constantly listening to podcasts? I was certain she’d tell me to start cutting back or go cold turkey. Or maybe we’d need to up our sessions to discuss why I was so unable to live in silence.
But she didn’t.
She didn’t even shrug. Apparently, constantly listening to music or podcasts is really common for people with anxiety. It helps us block out some of the extra stimuli that overwhelms us. She’s actually glad I found something that made me look forward to the hour long bus journeys to explore Berlin.
The fact that I was listening to quasi-educational podcasts was even better: I was engaging my brain. She hoped that would help tire me out. And that the extra voices in my ear might make me less lonely.
My coping mechanism was therapist approved (all my fellow therapy goers will know how amazing that feels)!
It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
So I happily popped in my headphones and further explored Berlin.
How Podcasts Help my Travel Anxiety
Podcasts are the best thing to soothe my anxiety while I travel.
My podcasts went everywhere with me last year. I took SYSK to every Christmas market in Berlin. I climbed a French mountain with Myths and Legends. I ran through the Austrian countryside with Fictional. I cranked up My Favorite Murder (MFM) on 1a.m. buses in London. And That’s Why We Drink got me through saying goodbye to Toronto for the next year.
With my love of books and stories, they’re the perfect entertainment for me. The fact that I can listen to them all the time, wherever I am allows me to make mundane tasks feel less mundane. Getting groceries was less of a chore when it didn’t disrupt my plans to listen to three episodes of SYSK before dinner.
Podcasts are oddly social for something you can listen to alone.
SYSK gave me a million fun facts that I could break out whenever I felt socially awkward. I also got at least five people I met while travelling hooked on the show. My sister got me into MFM and we spent most of the summer bingeing episodes together. Myths and Legends helped me connect with my mom over Russian legends she learned as a kid.
While none of the podcasts I listen to are about travel, that’s mostly because I’m already travelling. Why listen to tips on going to Iceland when you’re wandering the streets of Budapest?
People might assume that I’m using podcasts to escape my reality, but I’m not. I find they make me more present. They shut off the side of my brain that is constantly whirring and worrying, which lets me enjoy what’s going on around me.
When I go back to listen to old episodes again, I get transported in a very tangible way to wherever I was while I was listening.
The SYSK Villisca Axe Murder episode will always remind me of the smell of spices vegetables while walking down a dark Moroccan alley back to my Riad (admittedly, not my best episode choice for that moment). The first episode of MFM brings back the taste of spinach and cheese bourek, and the feeling of warm sand beneath my feet in Dubrovnik. SYSK’s How Cats Work smells like paint and sunscreen, with Lauren’s laughter ringing behind me.
10 Reasons I Recommend Podcasts
- Unlike music, podcasts aren’t repetitive (unless you listen to the same ones over and over again).
- Podcasts don’t kill your phone battery as quickly as downloaded Netflix episodes.
- Podcasts are mobile and hands-free.
- For a traveller on a budget, most podcasts are free.
- Podcasts can help you learn something (did you know a giraffe’s skin is basically a giant compression sock?).
- Podcasts a great distraction, because they keep you engaged.
- They can be very soothing (even when they talk about murder). The consistency of the voices is comforting.
- Podcasts can help you connect with other people.
- Once you find a good one, you have guaranteed entertainment for weeks, if not months.
- There is so much variety: everyone can find a podcast they love.
Podcasts are an easy coping mechanism, too. Simply have a few dozen episodes downloaded, charge your phone and pop in some headphones!
My 5 Favourite Podcasts
There are millions of podcasts out there, but I’d like to share my top 5.
This is my all time favourite podcast. It is hosted my Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. MFM is a comedy crime podcast.
These wonderful ladies are hilarious. They talk openly about mental health and joke about murder. I’m petrified of all true crime, but I’ve never been scared of their podcast: even when listening to it on a bus at 1a.m. in London.
New episodes air every Monday and Thursday.
My favourite part: them yelling at Steven or Elvis ending each show with a screamed meow.
Hosts, Em and Christine, share paranormal and true crime stories every Sunday. And That’s Why We Drink also launches a listener episode on the first of every month.
I found And That’s Why We Drink when I finally exhausted every MFM episode. It’s not the same, but the vibe is similar enough that it hooked me until I fell in love with it as its own show.
Scorpio’s will love that they read Christine’s dog’s horoscope (Gio is a Scorpio) at the end of the episodes.
Every week Josh and Chuck delve into a new topic. How does epilepsy work? Who is the Man of the Hole? Are Feral Children Real? They’ve already answered all these and more!
The boys have great chemistry and they always find a way to make me laugh.
My favourite part of SYSK is the extensive collection they have of over 1,000 episodes. It took me MONTHS to get through, where I usually devour a show in a few weeks (especially while travelling). However, to get some of the earliest episodes you have to go on Spotify (not a problem unless, like me, you tend to only use the Apple podcasts app).
Jason Weiser retells classic tales with a modern perspective. He describes it best: “Some are stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories you might not have heard, but really should.”
Jason sources his stories from around the globe. I love listening to Russian folklore, because of my heritage.
I started listening to the King Arthur episodes to test Jason’s accuracy (since I studied the legends in university). I was sold. But the more obscure stories are the ones I now prefer.
He closes each episode with a creature from folklore. They’re often hilarious little bandits that steal your things, but some can be more sinister. I’ve got a few culprits for my lost left socks now!
Fictional is Jason Weiser’s second podcast. Here, he retells classic stories from literature. From Dracula to Call of Cthulhu to Sherlock Holmes, he covers it all!
There is a lesser catalogue, as Fictional is a newer podcast. It’s only been around for two years, but there’s over 30 episodes for you to enjoy.
As a book lover, this podcast was a perfect find. I love the mix of stories covered. Every week, the new story is a welcome surprise!
Podcasts are amazing. Even if you aren’t an anxious person, I hope you give them a shot!
What are some of your favourite podcasts? How do you handle travel anxiety? Let me know in the comments!