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 Passion Passport editor Britton Perelman to discuss the entertainment she turns to during travel’s quieter moments. Britton’s travels have taken her across Europe and the United States, and the books, podcasts, TV shows, and movies that she turns to while on the road often are about some kind of travel journey, too.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma
“We’re all just travelers after all, telling stories, passing time.”
I’m a bit of a sucker for books about writers, so that coupled with Jansma’s lovely prose and the fact that each of this story’s 10 chapters takes place in a different location around the world makes “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” one of my favorites.
The novel follows an unnamed narrator as he attempts to achieve literary success in the shadow of his slightly better, but definitely crazier best friend. The chapters zoom from an art museum café in Raleigh, North Carolina, to a train in Sri Lanka, the rim of the Grand Canyon to remote Iceland. Its short story-like structure makes it an easy read, and the detail about each new location, laced with the narrator’s storytelling, makes it hard to put down. Make sure you have enough spare time when you near the final pages — you may just want to start all over again after you read the last sentence.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, narrated by Jim Dale
“Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes. The future is never set in stone, remember that.”
I’d listen to Jim Dale read the dictionary — and no, that’s not an exaggeration. I grew up listening to his soothing voice on the “Harry Potter” cassette tapes we bought with each book’s release, so I was ecstatic when I found out that he also narrated one of my favorite books. “The Night Circus” isn’t “Harry Potter,” but it is just as magical. The story weaves together the tales of star-crossed lovers, men who have been in competition with one another for hundreds of years, young adults who get caught in the crossfire, an eccentric entertainer, and a circus that takes on a life of its own.
I’ve heard the audiobook so many times I’ve lost count, but I always remember some of the places I’ve listened to the story — on a bus in Germany in the middle of the night, on the early morning train in Luxembourg, in the driver’s seat while I crossed southern Iceland, in the passenger seat as I traversed the U.S. on my move to Los Angeles. I’m somehow sure there are many, many places yet to be added to that list.
Listening to podcasts is my favorite way to while away the hours on long train rides, and Radiolab is one of the best. I’ve listened to so many episodes that the hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, feel like old friends (or, maybe, favorite uncles), and the sound design of each episode is all-encompassing in a way that always makes me forgo everything except staring out the window at the passing landscape.
I love that each episode, regardless of subject matter, transports you to a completely new world. One episode may guide you on a hunting safari in Namibia while the next immerses you in the world of 1870s football games. Thanks to Radiolab, I’ve experienced synchronous fireflies in Thailand, a magic show in 1940s Australia, a dolphin research facility in the Bermuda Triangle, Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and high-stakes debate competitions in Kansas City.
If you’ve never tried Radiolab before, start with one of these especially good episodes: The Fact of the Matter, Black Box, The Rhino Hunter, Juicervose, or Lost & Found.
“Midnight in Paris”
“I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city?”
“Midnight in Paris” isn’t my all-time favorite movie (that’s an entirely separate conversation), but it is the one that I return to whenever I travel. The 2010 Best Original Screenplay-winning movie is all about expectations, the places we love, and how we experience a certain location. The film presents a golden version of Paris, one that isn’t at all what I experienced myself, but one that influenced my time there nonetheless.
The main character, Gil, is lost in the way that many of us feel sometimes — like he knows where he wants to be and knows what it will take to get there, but just can’t get this very particular ideal out of his head. But, when presented with the opportunity to attain the very ideal he so seeks, Gil learns a very important lesson — that our present situation can be unsatisfying, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also beautiful. It’s a lesson that I like to remind myself of now and then, especially when I travel. I’ve even gone so far as to download the catchy tune that plays throughout the movie so that I could listen to it while I wandered the streets of Paris. C’est la vie.
“Oh, my dear, there’s no place on Earth with more magic and superstition mixed into its daily life than the Scottish Highlands.”
The show’s first season takes place in Scotland, but oddly enough, since I discovered it during my time in Sibiu, “Outlander” will always be tied to Romania in my mind. It was the end of June, dreadfully humid, and my Airbnb apartment didn’t have air conditioning — so when I couldn’t fall asleep at night because of the heat, I turned to “Outlander,” which was available on Netflix in Romania. I was hooked from the very first episode.
The protagonist, Claire, is a bit of a traveler herself, though not in the conventional way. A set of mystical standing stones outside Inverness transports Claire through time — from 1945 to a period of turmoil and change in the Highlands of 1745. The beautiful cinematography, incredible acting, and historical plotline is the perfect way to pass idle time while traveling (though you may want to make sure no young children are watching over your shoulder before you press play).