When I Say Hobo, I Mean Hobo

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Photo: Permanent Slab City resident “Granny”

This month my friend Crista Scott wrote her first article for Trail Runner Magazine about the ten things she learned over her summer as a dirtbag. Crista hit the road with her friend Cat and explored beautiful parts of the country. She camped out of her vehicle and didn’t shower very often.

Crista playfully refers to herself as a hobo, as many of us dirtbags do. However, someone in the comments section criticized her for being disrespectful to real homeless people who have no choice and no middle-class home in California to return to.

I felt the comment was misinformed, but was not surprised to see it. Similar comments have been made on practically every single article about dirtbagging on the Internet.

Here is the version that appeared on my blog in 2013 after we hit the road in our small RV.

“Please leave your commentary on poverty to those who are poor not by choice but by circumstance. As someone who works to provide social services to the poor, I have encountered few if any who view their condition as ‘freedom.’ Instead they are too focused on providing for their families to have the luxury of viewing life as you describe it.”

– Comment left on June 20th

Apparently, you have to be “poor enough” to comment on low-income travel and frugal living. I call poppycock.

While it makes me happy that people are concerned about the poor, scolding middle-class people from Santa Barbara doesn’t do much to actually help the homeless. It’s true that many travelers have never experienced real poverty so this argument generally shuts them up. My perspective is different because I have lived below the poverty line for most of my life.

I struggled for years to work my ass off so I could own all the things I was “supposed” to have—a house, a car, kids, and a white picket fence. I vividly remember reading Tynan’s blog for the first time and watching him live a lifestyle of minimalism, travel, and “freedom”. I loved his stories, and never once felt that I was too poor to achieve them. On the contrary, here was ONE freedom I could actually afford.

Inspired by Tynan, I took on a similar lifestyle. Months later, I came across a post he wrote in response to accusations that his lifestyle was only possible because he was wealthy and it wasn’t fair for him to flaunt his wealth in front of “poor” people who could never achieve what he had.

Tynan agreed, and conceded that his lifestyle wasn’t accessible to the poor. I was horrified. Not accessible?? I had switched to his lifestyle in one year, and it sure as shit was easier than trying to buy a house and a car.

These days, real-life hobos don’t seem to differentiate much between us as nomads and them as hobos. Homeless people have approached us with local tips of where to park and where to eat. They have even walked over with offers of weed. Hobo-warming gifts, if you will. They pick us out from the crowds and somehow know that we’re not about to pay for a hotel. In return, we give away everything we can spare but it feels more like sharing than charity.

I have never once come across a poor-not-by-choice person who is offended by my lifestyle because they are “too poor” to have it. It is always rich(er) people who feel they speak on behalf of the poor when they say, “Oh, you better not say that because a poor person can’t have what you have.” Seriously?

Poor people are not offended because we travel or call ourselves hobos. Here is what offends poor people:

  • Constant and extreme waste in our society
  • Watching others buy stuff they don’t need
  • Seeing food thrown in the garbage while their stomachs howl with hunger
  • People who grow fat and lazy from overconsumption
  • Mass media trying to convince them that luxuries are actually needs

What bothers me the most is the assumption that poor people are resigned to living in desperation for the rest of their lives, trying to make ends meet. This argument assumes that poor people are helpless and incapable of anything better than “getting by”. They’re not allowed to have dreams or ambitions—they can’t afford to.

I know what it’s like to choose between food or shelter, between an education or a place to live. I am addressing poor people when I write about my lifestyle, because once—just once—they need to meet someone who doesn’t believe they’re too poor to have dreams, too poor to aspire to anything, or too poor to experience freedom.

You May Also Enjoy:

Your Dirtbag Hospitality Guide

Happy Hoboversary: Stats From One Year Later

Why We Need Nomads

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

Stay tuned for my next book: Daughters of Distance

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