Hands up: who’s ever felt like a podcast has kept them company during their alone time? Whether it’s during a long solitary walk or while cooking for one, listening to a podcast is sometimes the halfway house between taking time to yourself and feeling in touch with your fellow humans – without the need for direct interaction.
And there’s research behind this, too. In 2018, a Canadian study found that podcast listening supports a person’s ‘ability to be alone yet feel like they were connected to others’. Tuning into your favourite show is time that you carve out for yourself, to tune into topics and niche areas that interest you as an individual, while being inspired by the ideas, expertise and musings of hosts and guests. Win-win, if you ask me.
But here’s where it gets a bit meta. So, we’ve already established that podcasts in general are a great companion for your alone time. But what about the podcasts that actually explore what it means to be alone – and how you can best value your own solitude?
As the author of Alonement: How To Be Alone & Absolutely Own It – a book dedicated to answering just this question – that’s a topic I’m obsessed with, and I’ve learnt so much for podcasts on everything from how to work alone successfully (and productively); how to pursue a solo travel adventure; and how meditation and journaling can support your time by yourself. Here’s my round-up of the best podcasts that help support your me, myself and I time:
First things first, I wanted to share my own podcast, Alonement. In a nutshell, it’s an interview-led podcast where I ask high-profile guests about their own alone time, and why it matters to them. Alonement – a word I coined and trademarked to refer to positive, restorative alone time, regardless of your age, life stage or relationship status – is the foundation of each conversation, but we also discuss loneliness and the different connotations of the word ‘alone’. I first started recording episodes in November 2019, but unsurprisingly the show took on a whole new resonance in March 2020 – which just so happened to be my launch month – as the world went into lockdown.
Now in its fifth season, Alonement is a hit podcast which has inspired listeners around the world to practise their ‘solitude skills’ and lean into the transformative power of alone time, even if that’s just ten minutes a day. Guests have included philosopher Alain De Botton, happiness expert Mo Gawdat and radio presenter Vick Hope.
A wonderful podcast from my friend and former podcast guest, Mo Gawdat. Author of Solve For Happy, and one of podcast giant Elizabeth Day’s favourite ever guests, it was only a matter of time before Mo shared his own unique approach to the world with his podcast, Slo Mo. Mo’s philosophy is that inner content comes from slowing down and listening, a message many of us would do well to honour. The show features a combination of solo episodes (one of the most memorable of which where Mo has a conversation with his brain, whom he has named ‘Becky’), and interviews with the likes of Poppy Jamie, Nir Eyal & Emma Gannon.
Desert Island Discs
Stranded alone on an island, what are the cultural companions you’d take with you? That’s the premise of one of the UK’s most loved and longest running radio programmes, the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, hosted by Lauren Laverne – which now exists as a podcast, too. Most of us know the drill: guests are asked about the eight songs, book and luxury item they’d take if they found themselves marooned alone, indefinitely, on a desert island. Historically (this show has been going since 1942), not all guests have reacted so well to the prospect of indefinite solitude. Three guests – Lynn Barber, Peter Nicholls and Stephen Fry requested ‘cyanide pills’ have their luxury item – to end it all there and then. But often, guests provide candid, touching reflections on the value of time alone – ’Loneliness is to be avoided, solitude is to be sought, said Tom Hanks in his episode – and how culture, memories & practical pursuits can form a feeling of companionship even in times of solitude.
This is a podcast for anyone who is self-employed, freelance, or simply works from home sometimes. Hosted by Solo: How To Work Alone (And Not Lose Your Mind) author Rebecca Seal, this is a timely reflection on what we need to support our mental health and wellbeing during our working lives. And, of course, there are many wise reflections on the power of solitude and social connectivity within our professional lives. The episode with solopreneur and fellow podcaster Emma Gannon, about self-sabotage and the importance of dating yourself, is a particular highlight of this series.
Feel Better, Live More
Journaling, meditation and solitude are topics that come up regularly on this podcast, driven by host Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s preoccupation with all three as cornerstones of his lifestyle-driven approach to medicine. The tagline – ’I want to empower you to become the architect of your own health’ – is indicative of Rangan’s championing of self-reliance, which at the same time involves regular solitary practices in order to be in tune with how you feel in your mind and body. Favourite episodes of mine include Rangan’s chats with meditation leader Light Watkins; computer science professor and ‘Deep Work’ proponent Cal Newport; and happiness author Gretchen Rubin. Listen now.
A Girl’s Guide To Travelling Alone
Craving a solo travel adventure? This is the podcast for you. A Girl’s Guide To Travelling Alone looks at a more specific form of solitude, and that’s travelling alone – which for many can be a time of befriending oneself, developing faith in your ability to fly solo and reinforcing a sense of individual identity, interests and passions. Hosted by veteran solo traveller Gemma Thompson, interview-led episodes cover everything from the mental health benefits of solo travel to the ups and downs of camping alone in the Australian Outback. Yes, it’s aimed at a female-specific audience (the clue’s in the name), but Gemma’s energising interview style, and the practical advice offered by the vast array of guests, would equally appeal to anyone looking to explore an adventure-for-one. Listen now.
Francesca Specter is a London-based journalist, podcaster and the founder of Alonement – a platform dedicated to the time we spend alone, and why it matters. Formerly deputy lifestyle editor at Yahoo, Francesca has worked for the Daily Express, Healthy magazine and British Vogue, while she has written on a freelance basis for The Telegraph, The Guardian and Grazia. She has a Master of Arts degree in Magazine Journalism from City University. She started the Alonement blog in 2019, and launched her podcast of the same name in early 2020 – interviewing guests including Alain de Botton, Poorna Bell and Daisy Buchanan. Her first book Alonement (Quercus, 2021) empowers you to value your own company and dedicate quality time to yourself, whoever you are and whatever your relationship status.