What I Listen To On the Road

by Brenna Holeman

The power of music never ceases to amaze me; it can make me jump up and down or it can reduce me to a whimpering pile of tears (and sometimes it can make me do both in one song). It has the power to instantly transport me back to a time or a place in my life – a few bars of this song, for example, and I’m right back in Thailand, dancing wildly on the beach, bucket of cheap whiskey in my hand.




What I listen to when I travel is a bit different to what I listen to when I am at home or at least stationary for a while. I’ve been collecting records for 13 years now, mostly rock and roll, jazz, R&B, doo wop, and gospel from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, but I find I listen to a huge variety of things when I’m on the road. Just like anyone, I have my “travel music”. Here, then, in no particular order, are my top favourite musicians and bands to listen to while I travel.


*Disclaimer: I have tried embedding videos into this post four times now, and it always fails. I have simply put the links for you to click on; hopefully in the future I will be able to fix this situation, but for now, with this shaky internet, it’s the best I can do.*



1. Radiohead

How obvious, I know. Who doesn’t like Radiohead?! Radiohead has long been my go-to “sleep” music, especially for long bus or train journeys. I’ve loved them for as long as I remember, and it’s often their melancholy songs I choose when I’m staring out of windows at new landscapes and nodding off, waiting for the hours to pass. I never grow tired of their music.


2. Sam Cooke

When somebody asks me who my very favourite band or musician is, I usually answer with Sam Cooke. I grew up listening to his pop songs, and in university fell in love with his gospel albums with the Soul Stirrers, which led me to discover a lot of other mind-blowing gospel singers from those years. I’m a firm believer that he has one of the best voices ever to grace this planet, and I can get lost in his songs for hours; on the road, his music makes me feel warm and safe. If I could turn back time and see one person perform live, it would be him.


3. The Black Keys

Particularly good for road trips, The Black Keys have, in the past few years, been that band that just gets me completely pumped up and excited for what’s to come. I listen to their albums a lot when I’m in big, busy cities, bustling places that seem to require the pure rock and roll they can provide. There is only one way to listen to The Black Keys: loudly.


4. Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel has long been one of my very favourite bands; like Radiohead, I never get sick of their songs. Listening to Neutral Milk Hotel is like drinking a mug of hot chocolate while lying in bed with the person you love, about to watch your favourite movie; basically, it’s the best thing ever. Whenever I feel a little bit homesick or like I need a hug, I listen to Neutral Milk Hotel and everything just feels so much better.


5. Stevie Wonder

You just can’t get much better than Stevie Wonder; there’s a reason he’s been so popular for so long, and it’s because he’s incredible. I especially love his older stuff, particularly his album Innervisions. When I listen to Stevie Wonder it’s like I instantly have a friend sitting beside me (which works wonders when I’m sitting next to an overweight and sweaty Nicaraguan man on a chicken bus).


6. Francoise Hardy

I just can’t get enough of female singers of the early 60s – my favourites include The Shangri-Las, Marianne Faithfull, Smith, The Ronettes, Lulu, Nancy Sinatra, Melanie, Mary Wells, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, and so on. I have also fallen in love with French pop from the same time (often called ye-ye). Early Francoise Hardy just encapsulates that innocent and, in a way, simple time in music; lyrics and melodies alike were fairly straight-forward, but they were beautiful and pure, totally relatable in their sweetness. Other favourites of mine from that time are Rita Pavone, France Gall and Sylvie Vartan; perhaps I love listening to other languages when I’m on the road, as it adds to the exoticism of the moment.


7. The Seeds

Similarly, I absolutely adore garage rock and rock and roll from the early 60s, and a large chunk of my record collection includes selections from The Seeds, The Sonics, The Pretty Things, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Kingsmen, The Zombies, The Electric Prunes, The Standells, The Beau Brimmels, and others. I tend to fall maniacally in love with one band for a few months and listen to one of their songs over and over again; right now, it just happens to be this song by The Seeds, but a month from now it will probably be another angsty young British band from the early 60s. I tend to put this music on when I’m in the mood for my pulse to quicken, for my eyes to close, and for my whole body to just want to get up and dance (not recommended when sitting beside beforementioned man on chicken bus).


8. Bob Dylan

The ultimate rambling man, a wanderer and citizen of the world. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, his songs inspire me and, often, connect me with other Dylan fans. And you know, I really do know what it’s like to be without a home, like a complete unknown, like a…


9. The New Pornographers

What can I say? They’re just such a dynamic, well-rounded, perfect band. I fell in love with them in high school and have been a devoted fan since. Much like The Black Keys, I listen to them to get myself pumped up and excited about a place – they make me want to have fun. They make me want to run around a new city and get lost and make crazy videos of all my adventures with their songs as my soundtrack.


10. Joni Mitchell

Because, duh. She’s a genius. She makes any bus journey tolerable, any view through a foggy window romantic and beautiful.


Honourable Mentions (because this was really, really difficult, took me a really, really long time, and I’m really, really bad at narrowing things down): The Smiths, Tom Waits, Pavement, The Magnetic Fields, Low, Patsy Cline, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Beirut, Amalia Rodrigues, Portishead, Television, Edith Piaf, Beck, The Rolling Stones, Spoon, The Beach Boys, Patti Smith, Jacques Brel, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Yo La Tengo, Bjork, Desmond Dekker, Regina Spektor, The Strokes, Massive Attack, The Pixies, Dolly Parton, Sonic Youth, and Ruth Brown.

What I found very, very interesting about this entire process, spending time looking through my “recently played” and “most played” playlists, was that nearly every single band or musician I picked was one I had been listening to for years. Even of those listed in the honourable mentions, there are only a few that made their debut in the last decade. Most of the music I choose to listen to while I travel is the music I listened to either with my parents or as a teenager; it’s like my homesickness manifests itself through song. As I rarely ever feel homesick when I travel, perhaps it’s because I allow all of this familiar music to comfort me, to subconciously remind me of home and of being comfortable and safe. It’s also just really damn difficult to stay on top of musical trends when you’re travelling, which is why I never really seem to know who’s popular at the moment; I’ve just sort of given up on trying to stay hip. Wait, do people still say “hip”?!
And you? What are some of your favourite bands and musicians to listen to while you travel?
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Anna July 6, 2012 - 11:10 pm

I LOVE this post! I am stuck in a music rut right now and was desperate to find something different and here it is, all neatly written out in one blog post! thank you! haha xx

Katelin July 6, 2012 - 11:45 pm

Loving this post too, just what I needed for my new travel heavy job – and to help me plan for Spain and Morocco!

This Battered Suitcase July 6, 2012 - 11:59 pm

Anna – How perfect! I’m so glad that I could be of some help. I hope you enjoy the new tunes!

Katelin – Thank you! I hope that you find some inspiration from this list!!

MacKenzie July 7, 2012 - 4:03 am

Tallest man on Earth and Gregory Alan Isakov!

liveletlive July 7, 2012 - 4:43 pm

you have great eclectic tastes!

This Battered Suitcase July 7, 2012 - 5:16 pm

MacKenzie – LOVE the Tallest Man On Earth! I wish I had more of his stuff on my iPhone right now…

Liveletlive – Thank you very much!

Dizneluver July 8, 2012 - 1:14 am

When ever I listen to any kind of music from the Disney Parks I am transported back to my many trips that I have taken though out the year! 8(:-D

mishvo July 9, 2012 - 12:46 am

Great taste in music! Going to go download some stuff you’ve mentioned now…

This Battered Suitcase July 9, 2012 - 2:42 am

Dizneluver – It’s so incredible how music can transport us back in time!

Mishvo – Thank you! I hope you like the new music…

Sarah Dobson July 18, 2012 - 4:05 am

I love this post! I have been doing lots of traveling around NS lately and I made a few playlists for the long, windy, coastal roads. They mostly include The Tragically Hip, Ben Harper, Jose Gonzalez, and the National. I also get pumped listening to West African music! I love Nneka, Tinariwen, Oumou Sangare and Ali Farka Toure.

This Battered Suitcase July 21, 2012 - 5:56 am

Sarah – Great choices! I really want to get into more world music – I always LOVE African music but don’t really know where to start. I will look these artists up, thanks!

The Best Travel Songs - This Battered Suitcase September 15, 2014 - 11:05 pm

[…] written about music a few times on this site; specifically, the music I listen to when I travel as well as a list of songs to listen to when you’re homesick. To me, music and travelling go […]

Jon September 16, 2014 - 11:36 am

I find myself listening to Coldplay a lot when I’m travelling and it’s slowly becoming my soundtrack for Australia. A particular memory is listening to “Til Kindgom Come” from a their X and Y album whilst on the NYC subway and has become a travel song for me.

Brenna Holeman September 16, 2014 - 11:54 am

I love when songs can be connected with travel memories! Thanks for sharing, Jon.


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