So You Want To Be a Hobo?

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This past week, when I was struggling to pay my rent, I threw up my hands and said, "That's it! I'm just going to have to be a hobo!" Of course, I was mostly kidding, but it made me wonder there were still hobos around anymore. I did a little research, and I was amazed to find that the hobo culture is alive and growing. Even though the word "hobo" calls to mind pictures of Depression-era men riding in freight cars, I was surprised to find that the modern day hobo is more likely than most to understand technology and how to use it. In fact, these digital hobos often earn money online and are citizens of nowhere. I even found an great article on Buzzfeed covering the yearly hobo festival that happens every August in Britt, Iowa. Hobos from across the country attend and even elect their new Hobo King and Queen.

To understand the life of a hobo, it's important to understand the difference between a hobo and a bum. In hobo vernacular, a "bum" is a person who travels, doesn't work and makes a living by begging. A "hobo" is someone who travels and works as much as possible, typically at low-paying jobs that require manual labor. Over the past few years this has changed. Today, there are hoboes who are construction workers, engineers, freelance writers and more. Despite the negative connotations of the word, the modern day hobo is often someone who has worked in transportation or construction and who, due to the current economic recession, hasn't been able to find adequate full-time employment. Faced with losing their homes or being unable to pay rent, they have decided to move to other areas to find work. In the meantime, they live in small communities, low cost hotels or even use websites like to find temporary places to stay.

So, am I suggesting that we all ditch our homes and become hoboes? Not at all. However, if you're struggling to find a job and want to travel, there are some things about the hobo lifestyle that you can use to find work and support yourself while you're looking. Here's how:

Assess your skills and experience. One of the official laws of hobo life (rule number 4) is "when no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts." So, if you aren't able to find full-time employment, look at your other skills. Perhaps you have a talent for photography and want to start a travel blog. Maybe you have experience in construction and can find a place to stay in exchange for home repairs. If that isn't to your liking, there are always options to teach English in a foreign country or Temp agencies in larger cities. Sometimes, thinking outside of your industry is a great way to find side work that will get you by until you land the right opportunity.

Lean on your network. Make a list of everyone you know, directly or indirectly, and where they live. This is a great time to renew connections with friends and family, even distant ones. It would be good to know that your great uncle Jim lives in a town you plan on visiting or that your old school friend has a small cabin near a fishing area. Some of these will be people who could offer you a place to stay for a couple of days while you visit while others might be able to have you over for dinner. Even people that you don't know well can be useful when you're traveling. In an emergency, it's always good to know someone you could call for help.

Do your research. Before you decide to hit the road, have a plan. Do as much research as possible and plan your trip. Make a list of the people you know in the area, places you can stay and how much it will cost to get started. It's a good idea to also have the numbers of churches and shelters in the area that provide services to the homeless. Hopefully, you won't need them, but if you get into a situation where you do, you'll be glad that you had the information at the ready. As with everything, preparation is key. There are also several books available, like The Hobo Handbook that give more insight into the hobo lifestyle.

Look for ways to help. In the course of your travels, look for ways to give back. Volunteer to help with non-profit groups and groups that work with the homeless. You can even contact the organizations as you plan your trip. These groups will help you network with other people in the area and will help you have a sense of belonging. As an added plus, they will be able to give you valuable information about local resources and can even offer you a meal in exchange for work. Even if you don't find a group you want to work with, look for ways to offer kindness to others along the way. It's good karma and it's the right thing to do.


The hobo life isn't for everyone, but if you're in-between jobs and looking for ways to make ends meet, traveling and working temporary jobs might be a solution.



Have you ever thought about being a hobo? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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  • EdwardT
    I am just 13 but i all ready know that is what i want to have your freedom no one can boss you around
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for the great comments!@Wesley - I would love to hear your stories. There's a lot a person can learn from an "old hobo".@Michael - I agree - those questions make it difficult for people who are hard workers to get jobs - especially if they aren't management material.@Donna - Yes, hobos certainly have a less complicated lifestyle - but they have plenty of challenges of their own.@James - No matter what you have to go through - don't give up on yourself. Even the least of us deserve to chase our happiness. Good luck with your art store! The big key to success is to market your work as hard as you can - even if it sometimes feels like crazy self-promotion.
  • Michael P
    Michael P
    Good advice for people that are "displaced workers".  I think it's unnecessary for companies to have HR questionnaires online after you apply.  You have to answer manager questions to apply for a retail position.  Some of them are just stockperson jobs and they give you all these situational questions. A prescreener should call you not all this online crap.
  • Wesley B
    Wesley B
    Living the dream, or nightmare, can't tell yet. I'm thankful for all I've experienced in my life of 51 years, some really good times, some really bad. But no matter where I am there is always a bright side. On top of the world, or licking the dirt, Aim High,keep stroking,and when your feet get tired of walking~think about the man with No legs. I think God lets us go through hard times and heartbreaks so we can feel exactly what someone is feeling and stretch out a hand, or say a simple" hang in there you'll be glad you did ". Or maybe "Stick some of that candy back for rainy days". I think you know what I mean. I may be a no count old Hobo,but I have a story. too long for me to type.One thing about a Hobo you can pin their body's down,but you'll never put chains on their mind's or souls. Thank You !  I'm not ashamed of who I am, And I have a reason for being. Maybe some day I can tell you, and even the rest of the world The whole story...
  • Donna M
    Donna M
    I agree and they work to live and live life and gain experience and some enjoyment in the process while the rest live to work to pay for outrageous mortgages and fancy cars not for them to enjoy but to make them look good . We should all take a lesson from the Hobo  - food, shelter and good health are the necessities of life.
  • James N. S
    James N. S
    I have spent most of my life "homeless". I was raised in the countryside of southern Maryland...As a teenager my mother and I didn't get along,So I left.I am a freehand artist really only finding true success at it in jail...I had periods of stability, But I always fell back to "camping" when I had no money for rent.I even camped out when I couldn't afford my children and their Mom put me out...I still earned what I could and did without so that my kids could have a little more in their poverty..My youngest is 17 to be 18 in February. I love them all so much, but, they gave up on me..I almost  did too!My story is almost "UNBELIEVABLE". I never had many true friends, Those I counted as fiends have mostly Died...I have training and talents that are remarkable..Including Electronic serving( No one fixes things much any more) and I'm a lifelong Artist..Pencil Drawing being my favorite..I write poetry. I don't share these much because most of my work has been stolen or lost...Cutting to the chase ...I'm pursuing my dream to sell my art work on-line and break my family's curse of poverty...19 years ago TODAY I was stabbed in the chest with a 6" steak knife, by my"friend" + employer over a $3 pint of Vodka! He lied and charged me with assault! I faced those charges the following year...I was 31 years old.My 2nd Daughter was born while I was still in a coma!!! In all my days and all I've been thru I had no Idea that HOBO lifestyle was in this manner...I never went hungry ( well not starving ) and was usually comfortable whenever "camping". I do plan on writing my Bio, as My shrink tells me it will help with my emotional  problems...And I know my family gave up on Me...I'll never give up on them...For Them...James
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for the great comments. @Matthew, I'm not a hobo in the same way that the hobos in Britt are, but I think Boxcar Willy wasn't actually a hobo either, as a country music singer, it was a persona he adopted.@William, you're right that there are fewer resources for men. It's not fair and it's a shame. However, things are changing. In Maryland (where I live) single men can qualify for medical assistance program called PAC and food stamps as well. Since assistance varies from state to state, do some research. If you have no family, there's no reason you can't relocate to being homeless in a state that is more helpful. It might take awhile to get bus fare, but it's an idea. Also, look at your resources and skills. If you move to a place where fishing and crabbing are plentiful, at least you can get food during the warm months. If you are skilled at hunting, move to places where you can do that. You have an amazing opportunity to go wherever you want. It's not ideal, but don't discount the idea of making the most of your circumstance.
  • Matthew E
    Matthew E
    have you ever met boxcar willy or you a pretend a HOBO .
  • mark t
    mark t
    Thank you for the post .I am a hobo its great to see i am not alone . thank you for the information.
  • Samuel D
    Samuel D
    I want to be a HOBO
  • jason l
    jason l
    great idea in an economy like our current one.
  • William P
    William P
    Hi there Melissa, I am responding to your recent post that begins: "Melissa Kennedy On: 9/18/2012 12:53 AM@Jennifer, When you get to the place where you have nothing left to lose,..." when you wrote ..."Also, don't be too proud to contact your local social service agency. ..." I need to inform you that social service WORKERS are just about the most useless people EVER, at least here in TX. If you are a male, and are not part of a "FAMILY" meaning you have no wife and children....there is no agency that will help a man in this circumstance. I have been homeless three times, I am white and well groomed and educated....but when you add in that I have no "family" ....(I literally DO NOT, I am an orphan), as well I am too young for gov. assistance and too old for anyone to consider me for hiring ....I am 51 years young and healthy. With no car and no cell phone.....Give that some thought. The lines at homeless shelters are packed with men my color and age...... Females have it far far far far easier. Being an unemployed WHITE MALE over TX, USA really sux !
  • anthony demarco
    anthony demarco
    nice article.
  • Thomas S
    Thomas S
    Home is where you hang your hat at night
  • Maria F
    Maria F
    This is a very heartening article. thanks for sharing.I have recently been laid off from my job and desperately looking for a new one. So my heart goes out to all the lonely, frightened people out there.Wishing everyone a good life!
  • Jeffrey K
    Jeffrey K
    I am interested in learning about "HOBO'S"
  • Fredrick J
    Fredrick J
    i like this and find it interesting. thanx for sharing :)
  • John F
    John F
    I appreaciated the information and ideas.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    @Jennifer, When you get to the place where you have nothing left to lose, you have to stand up and fight back. If you can't pay your rent and have accepted the fact that you're going to be homeless, find out your legal rights. Often, it takes several months before a landlord can evict you. Stay as long as you can and use the resources you have in the meantime to come up with a plan for effective homelessness. I know it's scary and I've been in similar circumstances. It's not ideal, but your choices are to just roll over or keep on fighting. Also, don't be too proud to contact your local social service agency. There are programs to help prevent eviction, help you with rent, food and other services. They can put you in contact with other organizations that have resources to help you. Don't give up! It really does get better!
  • Jennifer Q
    Jennifer Q
    I am actually faced with a similar situation right now, I am looking for work but no one seems to want to hire me. I am faced with rent at the end of the month and only have enough saved to pay one more month... after that I will be homeless. Seeing your article makes me feel a little bit better about the possibility of being without a house. I have friends that are homeless and are doing quite well on their own. Maybe being homeless isn't as bad as it seems, it's a scary thought for everyone, but you have to start at the bottom to get to the top.
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