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 Couchsurfer.com 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.