Travelcasting: Lighten Your Backpack, Load Up Your iPod

You’re planning a trip abroad. You’ve done some research on the Internet and bought a travel guidebook or two – Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, maybe Frommers or Fodor’s. But the fact is you’ve been busier than hell trying to get things sorted out at home and at work before you take off, and you just haven’t had much time to read those books.

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Looking to get an instant (if superficial) feel for where you’re going? How about through the sounds of the place and the voices and opinions of the people living there? Travel podcasts – or as I call them, travelcasts – may be music, and more, to your ears.

Diving Into the World of Travelcasting

There’s a whole world of free travelcasts at your disposal, free audio and video downloads that you can enjoy on your computer or iPod. Download these files before your trip and you could even listen to/watch them while you’re on the plane (or on public transportation or on a treadmill at the gym, etc.). Think of these as “media on the go” that you can enjoy whenever and wherever you like.

© Hryckowian

Hear the sounds of a city or funky folk music specific to a country or region; get language lessons; find insider tips on what to see and do, eat and drink; and hear about the locals and how they live. Oftentimes travelcasts can be even more up-to-date than what’s been published in that travel book that’s as thick as ”˜War and Peace’.

Finding and Setting Up Your Travelcast Subscriptions

To find these podcast shows your best bet is by going to some of the more prominent online “podcast directories”. The most important and comprehensive one is on iTunes – even if you don’t have an iPod you can download and peruse these podcast offerings for free. The iTunes directory has a wonderful “Power Search” function: just type in simple keywords (cities, countries, etc.) to find podcasts, just like you would use a search engine. All of a sudden the world reveals itself, downloadable and free.

There’s also a podcast site called Podcast Alley, which has an extensive travel section.

Once you locate what you’d like to listen to it’s time to subscribe. Usually, one click in iTunes or Podcast Alley allows you to automatically receive the latest episodes of a podcast (and you can put a tick on the past episodes you’d like to download, too).

The last step in travelpodding is synchronizing your mp3 device, i.e. transferring those downloaded files to your iPod. If you have an iPod your iTunes software can easily lead you through the process. But if you have a no-name brand mp3 player it will usually sync up wonderfully through the latest version of Windows Media Player.

Create a “playlist” on the left side of the player (how about naming it “My Trip”?); highlight the podcasts you want to play consecutively and then drag them into the playlist. Drag the playlist into the sync panel of your player (which Media Player should recognize and show in a panel) and click on “sync”. You’ll see the files transferring to your mp3 player and Media Player will tell you when it’s all done.

Man on train next to iPod charger
© waffler

The Best Travelcasts the Web Has to Offer

Let’s say you’re taking a tour of Europe. There are several podcasts which can introduce you to countries and regions of Europe. Some of the most popular include A Year in Europe, Travel with Rick Steves, the Amateur Traveler, Notes from Spain, and the iPod Traveler.

Here’s a random list of some of my favorite travelcasts:

  • Fly with Me — The stories behind travel and the travel industry: One recent show was a produced interview about Delta Airlines special YouTube babe who does the classic ”˜putting on your oxygen mask’ stewardess act. A nice twist on travel news.
  • TravelCommons – a meditation on constantly being on the road for business. Host Mark Peacock takes his travel seriously, monitoring the latest trends and the ups and downs of getting through the security check in the US post September 11. Always conversational, always cerebral.
  • CBC Radio: Dispatches — a travelogue show of sorts produced by Canada’s public broadcaster that focuses on issues affecting destinations. I could almost see the houses on stilts as I listened to one recent segment on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap river.
  • Podcast — covering a wide variety of destinations, this travelcast is updated fairly regularly. One episode called “Out and About” covers the potential concerns that gay and lesbian travelers may have while abroad. The show’s telephone line sound quality can be irritating.
  • The Indie Travel Podcast — a friendly couple from New Zealand talk about some of the logistical issues you may want to consider on your vagabonding adventures.
  • Travelography — a regular round up of news stories on the global tourism industry. While this does not give information about specific travel destinations, the show has a conversational tone and makes one realize how tourism is touching so many aspects of our lives, from taxi strikes in France to how raising the retirement age in Greece recently stopped all incoming flights.
  • World Traveler Student Series (from STA Travel) — Fun video podcasts from STA Travel intern Rachel Rudwall, who takes us to parts of Asia and Europe in irreverent little tours that give us a taste of the destinations. Don’t drink too much absinth!
  • Hey Poland! — Useful if long-winded podcast (one even lasts about 50 minutes!). A recent episode was a chat between the North American host and a Polish guest about Polish money: a little history, exchange rates, what it looks like, how much you’d pay for a burger and fries, what you can get in shops, etc.
  • Notes from Spain — the neat thing about this podcast, which is hosted by an Englishman and his Spanish girlfriend, is that it actually transports listeners to places in Spain. One particularly well-produced episode was about Spanish guitar makers: it included meanderings on guitars with some interesting anecdotes on Spanish guitarists, like Andres Segovia. Good interviews, excellent natural sound. They also have a series of Spanish language lessons.
  • Rough Guides Podcasts — takes on interesting topics like how to travel with children; life is not over, even with small kids, according to their expert interview.

For a taste of home and to keep up with current events as an expatriate (and when I travel), some of my favorite podcasts include the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent, an American public radio show on arts and culture called Studio 360, weekend magazine show Weekend America and audio from the wonderfully stodgy American political debate show Meet the Press.

What podcasts do you subscribe to, travel or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below!

  1. Great article! The last time I was traveling overseas, I couldn’t afford an iPod (it was 2003…), but these days, I do love listening to podcasts on my Gen2 Nano.

    As for what I listen to while not on the road, I love listening to Prairie Home Companion (APB) and Morning Becomes Eclectic (KCRW). For news, I’m an All Things Considered (NPR) or Morning Edition (NPR) fan.

  2. The iPod Traveller is no more:

    Doors to Close on iPod Traveller!

    After two fantastic years of iPod Traveller we have sadly made the decision to call it a day. Stay subscribed to the feed for our final episode which we promise will be coming in January 2008. We will run through some of the highlights of the past couple of years, with comments from readers and a special feature on the future of travel in Europe.

  3. Downloading travelcasts is a definite must for me after my last trip. I was able to upload a few of Rick Steves’ audio guides before my last trip and they certainly added a new dimension to the visit. I did find that finding cheap or free mp3 tours of sites or cities was a bit tough though. Now that I know how nice these can be to have I’m working on putting together a few for noambit. If you are headed to Italy though, check out Rick’s tours at

  4. Drew, Mike — thanks so much for the mention. It’s nice to know people are listening and enjoying the show!

    James – if you have iTunes you can get help on how to subscribe to podcasts here. It’s specific for our show, but works for all the others too.


  5. I love Rick Steves and Lonely Plante destination podcasts! I listen to them on the train at home in NY.

    Judging from the last trip I took, where everybody was plugged into their iPod, I must be the only person who doesn’t take mine on my trips.

  6. I take mine all the time, because I keep all my important phone numbers and addresses on it. iPods are good for more than just music! I’m notorious at losing small sheets of paper that I tend to write astonishingly important things on. This method of organization however, doesn’t help if your iPod mysteriously malfunctions and you walk around Montreal until 6 a.m. looking for your couchsurfing host’s place.

  7. There are some excellent podcasts on Roman History, or (or UK) on all kinds of things. Great for putting you in the place.
    A word for the wise on Travel guides: Caveat Emptor!
    Many are not professionally produced, so, listen before loading! You need to decide if you could listen for more than a few minutes…will it capture your attention or put you to sleep?!

  8. Thanks for the mention.

    One of the things I like to do is to subscribe to a local podcast for a couple of months prior to visiting. For example, I listened to The ZA Show prior to my spring holiday last year in Cape Town. I can’t say that I picked up any specific hint or suggestion, but I felt a bit more familiar with the place before I arrived.

    And anyone planning a trip to Budapest should certainly listen to the author’s Budacast podcast for a good 6 months before arriving.

  9. Finally got our first MP3 audio guide posted for purchase and download on noambit! This one’s about Florence but more to come. All this talk about pod casts has really inspired me.

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