Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.
This week, we reached out to Alistair Hornsby, a member of the Passion Passport editorial team who’s a traveler, photographer, writer, and creative at heart. Alistair is no stranger to the road, having traversed the U.S., Southeast Asia, Australia, and many more places around the world. Today he’s discussing the media he turns to during travel’s quieter moments.
“Stuff You Should Know”
“Stuff You Should Know” is the type of podcast that does exactly what is says on the tin. Hosts Josh Clarke and Chuck Bryant address an unrivaled variety of topics, from How Ponzi Schemes Work to the Mystery of the Mary Celeste. I first downloaded their Why Can’t We Find Amelia Earhart episode and was hooked immediately by the pair’s laid-back, personable rapport. “Stuff You Should Know” takes the everyman’s approach to a wide variety of topics and phenomena, explaining the mechanics or story of their subject matter in a conversational fashion that anyone can understand.
I’ve spent hours in trains, planes, and automobiles learning about the weirdest topics. “Stuff You Should Know” was one of the early pioneers of the podcast genre, and that means they’ve developed a library of over 1,000 episodes to delve into. If you don’t find one too interesting, pick a different one — with such an extensive back catalogue, you’re sure to find a topic that will draw you in. While Josh and Chuck don’t claim to provide an exhaustive account of whatever it is they’re talking about, their witty banter and warm personalities make each show feel like you’re taking part in a relaxed chat with a couple of buddies. That, along with their mind boggling variety, make Josh and Chuck perfect travel companions.
“Concierto de Ananjuez” by Jim Hall
Mornings can be hard. Whether you’re traveling or at home, tearing yourself from the comfort of a bed is any day’s first small victory. To help me in my struggle against heavy eyes and a tired mind, I turn to Jim Hall’s rendering of Joaquín Rodrigo’s 1939 Concierto de Ananjuez. This track approaches 20 minutes in length, its soundscape building gently across its three movements, making it the perfect soundtrack to an early rise.
The considered pace of the song also lends itself to time spent in the monotony of airport terminals. The masterful instrumentation weaves itself into a great sonic backdrop to give all the hubbub around you a narrative quality it didn’t possess before. The song peaks, crests, dips, and swells, imparting a sense of movement and purpose, even in the most stationary moments.
“Sylvan Esso” by Sylvan Esso
This self-titled debut album brings together the wonderful vocals of Amelia Meath with a mixture of soft, pulsing rhythms and soaring, drum-driven anthems laid down by Nick Sanborn. The album tops the list of my favorites to travel with, as its upbeat electro-pop sound is great to tune out to on long journeys. In fact, during a road trip my partner and I took across America, this album helped ease our minds as we drove through the most violent storm either of us had ever experienced. As the torrential deluge bore down upon us in middle-of-nowhere, Texas, we found solace howling along to tracks like “Wolf” and enjoying a little peace of mind in the soothing melodies of songs like “Coffee.” It’s a drive I’ll never forget, with Sylvan Esso drowning out the cacophony of the storm crashing around us.
“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
I’ve had this book for a long time, and it shows. I picked up a copy in a tiny, independent bookstore located in a pedestrian underpass on one of Sydney’s main streets in 2013. The book is worn and water-damaged, the edges of its pages rippled and stained, and it’s missing its back cover. Despite the book’s age, the wisdom inside remains timeless. I’ve read and reread this book from cover to (missing) cover more times than I can remember because I find the insights of its author to be relevant to the universal human experience. Aurelius’s deep, personal reflections (which were never intentioned to be seen by the eyes of another, until they were published by a Swiss academic in 1559) are startlingly relatable, even thousands of years after they were first written down.
Aurelius was a Roman general and emperor who spent the majority of his life fending off invading armies and leading his empire on new frontiers. The fact that the man who spent so much of his life struggling to survive managed to retain such a centered and holistic worldview has always impressed me. Despite the dire circumstances in which he often wrote his meditations, he only ever wished to lead a life dedicated to the greater good of his kind. He sought to lead, rule, and live with dignity, sense, and respect for both his subjects and his enemies. For me, the fact that he wrote these observations and reflections solely for his own eyes means his words are the product of honest self-examination, a picture of a human mind necessarily forced to confront its demons. We can learn a great deal from such a mind.