Hobo Living Made Easy

By Nora Dunn on 3 October 2007 (Updated 7 October 2007) 25 comments
Photo: Jef

As a Professional Hobo, I don’t just live on the street and beg for spare change. I'm also not as lucky as Fabulously Broke, who, through contract jobs, manages to live out of a suitcase with her husband as "modern nomads".


And I don't have an exhaustive amount of money in order to cruise around the world and live in (even inexpensive) hotel or hostel accommodations. I have to be a little more resourceful.


Here are a few tools I've used to date in order to facilitate my Hobo lifestyle:

Rotary International

I joined Rotary many years ago when I was in business. I joined not for networking or business purposes, but because in the club I specifically joined, I found a number of positive enthusiastic people who were dedicated to dozens of charities around the world. Our little club of 30 people annually raises more than $100,000 for over a dozen charities.

When I have travelled anywhere in the world, all I ever had to do was show up at the local Rotary meeting, and more often than not I was received with open arms. It was a perfect way to immediately interact with the locals in a social manner and discover what really makes that town or country tick.

Not only that, but being so tapped into the inner circle, I was often given advice as to where to stay (or not to stay), and in many cases taken for a tour, even offered a place to stay and a homecooked meal.

Rotary fits into my Hobo lifestyle because one of my priorities is to give back to the world in whatever way I can. And when you are working on a small charitable project (like building a school in a tiny town in the Andes for example), the locals will in many cases offer up their homes in exchange for the contributions you make. Each Rotary club is tapped into these projects and can show me where my services might work best.

If this makes you want to jump up and join Rotary, I will offer one small note of caution: Not all Rotary clubs are created equal. Some clubs will only accept people of a certain business acumen or background, and some are even prejudiced against women (historically having been a boy's club of sorts). Some claim to be dedicated to "Service Above Self" (the Rotary International motto), but when you look under the surface are nothing more than a social networking group.

It is all in the specific group of people that makes up the club. So if you are interested in Rotary, visit a number of clubs until you find one you can call home.

Wwoofing

WWOOF is an acronym for a number of different phrases, the most apt of which in my mind is "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms". It is an international organization (located in over 70 countries) of organic farms, gardens, businesses, ranches, (you name it) where you can exchange your services for accommodations, food, and training.

Required services include basic garden and farm maintenance, as well as cooking, teaching, caring for children, and handy work. There is usually some work suitable for anybody willing to adopt this lifestyle.

Whilst surfing Wwoofing opportunities, you will likely also find links to volunteer organizations, and other similar work exchange opportunities. It's a great way to gain valuable experience, friendships, and to cover off your living expenses in a constructive manner.

Caretaker Gazette

I found the Caretaker Gazette while researching Wwoofing opportunities. It is a newsletter that connects property owners with house-sitters, property caretakers, ranch hands, cooks, and the like. The common underlying theme tends to be rent-free living in exchange for services rendered.

Opportunities range from a home owner in Florida who requires somebody to house sit and take care of the pets while they are on vacation, to full-time fishing lodge maintenance, to caring for a private island in the South Pacific while the New York owners are back home.

The Caretaker Gazette is in fact how I found my next opportunity, and will be moving to Hawaii shortly! I was moved by the call of a property owner for caretakers:

"CO-CARETAKERS WANTED for a Big Island of Hawaii, 76 acre, beachfront, sustainable homestead/land trust in sunny Kapoho. Ecological, health conscious, drug free, responsible, energetic, fit, stable couple (age 20-40's) wanted to co-caretake an off-grid (solar and wind) educational living project, that supports fair, responsible, sustainable, and healthy living. Work/trade in exchange for housing: 13 days per month, four hours per day. Involves feeding chickens, milking goats, coppicing nitrogen-fixing trees for green manure and fodder, and garden maintenance. Stipend available for extra days..."

The owners are a neat couple who are completely dedicated to leaving as small a footprint on the earth as possible. They both work in the medical profession, and find themselves overextended in trying to maintain the property (which takes four hours a day) in addition to work on their employment and other projects.

All necessary training will be provided, and my boyfriend and I will be able to sustain ourselves entirely off the land and through any additional stipends we work for in order to cover the purchase of staples.

Caretaking typically appeals to (among others), those who are retired with a sense of adventure, writers or artists who need time to work on their craft and minimal expenses, or maintenance-handy people who like to live where they work.

This is what TIME Magazine had to say about Caretaker Gazette.

These are just three opportunities I have discovered and used to help me live the Professional Hobo lifestyle and give back to the world at the same time. Being a Hobo can take on many forms!

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Philip Brewer's picture

These are all great ideas, especially for someone who's a bit more footloose than I am. That Hawaii gig sounds awesome. (Also, I've been trying to come up with a way to sneak coppicing into a post, without success so far. It's a cool sustainability technique that's not widely enough known.)

Coming up with cheap or free housing is the key to extreme frugality, and those last two resources were ones I was not aware of.

Guest's picture

I've just spent a ridiculous amount of time browsing the WWOOF pages thinking about how nice it would be to learn how to build a rammed earth house in Portugal....NICE resource! Thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

Oh MAN!!! How I would LOVE to pick up and go, live like this!
The "American Dream" is sooooo boring to me usually. The only thing that keeps me doing the same dishes everyday, vacuuming the same floor everyday, scrubbing the same toilet everyday, walking the same boring town everyday, etc....is that my Family lives 1/2 hour away, and I could never ever leave them for very long. Well, just my Dad and my Sister, that is. (my Mom's deceased.)
(I've tried to convince them to "come with me" and start life different somewhere else, but there's always the money/job opportunities, etc....p'tuey!! Of course, I don't work, so it sounds easy for me! I just have to take care of the kids!)
I've never been out of the US, except for Canada, and I feel like I'm missing out on so much life.
I know...I'm venting.
I was just so affected by this article. Just knowing that the possibilities are there, and so cheap...I almost wish I'd never read this, cause now it's gonna bother me even MORE, doing the same dishes, walking the same town, shopping the same Walmart....
Siiiiiiiiiigggggghhhh.
I gotta go fold the laundry.
:(

Guest's picture
Guest

Hang in there. *patpats*

Look at it this way: at least our minds are now open to new possibilities. ^_^

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi
I know how you feel!!!! I find domestic bliss stupifyingly boring!!.
I cope by getting divorced and living near my ex so that I can take off when I need to goet away, Ive just done a month round thailand, laos and vietnam and nobody minded. I feel so so lucky to be able to do this.
Please dont give up on your desire to change.....youll regret it
Jane x

Guest's picture
Sarah

oh...i am a wanderlust single mom and know EXACTLY how you feel!

Nora Dunn's picture

The transition from the "North American Dream" to being a Professional Hobo was an extremely difficult thing to do. It involved lots of sacrifices of personal comforts (be they material posessions or just knowing you have a "home" and "job"), and stepping way outside my comfort zones.

However, the calling was strong, and I simply couldn't live the rest of my life as I was. It was kind of a shame - I had established quite the business and had a lot of media notoriety in my field.

Having said that, I couldn't imagine my life any other way now. Every day is an adventure, and one worth living to the fullest! Who knows where I'll go next - waiting for the next opportunity (and being flexible enough to take it on) is like gold.

Sacrifices like distance from family and lack of some personal comforts were things I had to suck up. Like Philip said in his recent article,  sometimes these changes are enlightening and help us to appreciate what we have all the more.

To anybody who shares this dream, if it speaks to you strongly, see what you can do to live it. I haven't looked back once!  

Guest's picture

I know that my situation is unique... and I'm very lucky to be paid well to do what I love, and have the opportunity to save an insane amount of cash to go towards debt.

I'm also lucky to have such an understanding Husband :)

Guest's picture
FPM

I used to be a homeless rodeo clown but now I am a world class magician !

Guest's picture
Guest

we come, we go, breathe it in and out. open up with joy and let go with awareness of the interconnectivity existing with everything dominated all by the impermanance of this transient dream.
one love.
bdb

Guest's picture
lauren

I've been looking around for information like that.
The only thing that I wonder about is if it's very safe?
I would probably do it alone.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am very intrigued by the idea of the professional hobo way of life. Are there ever any employment opportunities involving a wage, and not just exchange for room/board? I only wonder because there would have to be some cash coming in to pay for getting from one point to the next, airfare, etc. Awesome idea though, and I am seriously considering giving up my career and pursuing a fuller life of travel and new experiences. Being able to give back would also be very rewarding. Any info that anyone has is appreciated!! Thank you!

Guest's picture
Glenn

After the death of my wife of 26 years. I started thinking of trying something different. I taught school for 11 years in Voc. education and have a master plumbing lic. My kids are grown. I started I should sell my home and move on. At 49, I wonder is a hobo life is good way to clear my mind. Thanks

Guest's picture
Molly

Hi....I'm 49 too and separated. This year I sold up and started woofing. So long as I can put £50 a week in the bank I can get by. The life is wonderful and I've learned lots and met many amazing people. I aim to be "amazing at eighty" and that means doing amazing things....go for it you wont regret it.

Guest's picture
Guest

What about selling your home and buying a smaller and cheaper "base" to hit the road from ? When you get road weary you will always have a place to come back to for rest. Then......hit the road again. I was in a similar situation and did this and so far (over 4 years) it has worked perfectly !

Guest's picture
Gitana Santana

This is what has been stirring up in my mind, heart and soul for some time now. I would love to hear from anyone who has had these yearnings/experiences. I am a 55 years young, unencumbered woman, yearning to make the rest of my life's experience a true adventure. Pls.contact me if you have felt like me or lived out your adventure.

Guest's picture
Scot Roepcke

I did this actually, Quit a good carrer job after my daughter finished scool and was out on her own, I went backpacking in northern Minn. I was alone and after a few months the heat, bugs and seclusion got to me and I headed to more familiar territory and looked for a job again but I am going to try again soon.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Gitana,

If travel stirs your soul, get out there and do it!

An incredibly inspirational and entertaining read that you may find quite enlightening about the world of travel as a 50-something female is Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World. The author is quite amazing, and she continues to live an inspirational nomadic life.

Good luck!

Guest's picture
Guest

:] i got the right cloths for it and everything

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Jane - Good for you on taking those mini sabbaticals! Indeed, never give up on a dream or a desire for change....there's a reason we desire change to begin with.

Guest's picture
Guest 2

Hi, my husband and I were just talking about doing something like that over dinner tonight. We have been wanting a change in our life and to travel around the world...I thought it was all very interesting to read, but I was wondering when a person decides that lifestyle how can they go back to having a normal life? How about retirement? I'm just thinking about the future reality that we get old and can't work anymore. What would you say about that? My husband and I are artists, and I'm also a dance teacher, do you think that can help us along the way?

Guest's picture
Tyler

Hi! My names Tyler, I have been very interested in drifting, like said, the american dream can be kinda boring. Its not like I have a tough life or anything, in fact, I have a great life. But I feel I have no real use for society, I'm kinda not bright. I feel like it would be in my best interest to wander for, hell, maybe ever! I am not sure where to start, I am a junior in high school and have told no one about this dream, so I had better pack up and quick! It will ve tough to just leave everything behind, I'm not sure I am even prepared for this. But ****,my other dream was to be an astronomer, and that can't happen, once again, not that bright. Maybe I will follow the stars in my own way, on my own time living my own life. The one and only, Tyler.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Tyler - I must implore of you: stay in school! I didn't sell up everything until I was almost 30 years old, and I think that I needed those years under my belt to appreciate it for all it's worth. If you quit school you'll limit your chances...at the very least finish school, then you can re-evaluate.

Guest's picture
Tyler

Thanks for the comment Nora, but, so far I have felt no reason to go to school,it has only taught me how to cheat. And as for appreciating things, I think I do a great job of that! I've always been thankful for everything that was given to me. Now I would like to earn something, drifting just sounds like a very satisfying way to earn something!

Guest's picture
sue

thinking of selling my stuff and taking a leap towards traveling/volunteering but one question, where do you live in between these jaunts though? If landlords did one month rentals, I'd be set!