Hobo vs. Vagrant: Differences Explained

The terms “hobo” and “vagrant” both refer to individuals who are homeless and often travel from place to place in search of work or shelter. However, there are some differences between the two terms.


A hobo is a person who travels and works, often by hopping freight trains or hitchhiking, to support themselves. The term “hobo” often connotes a sense of freedom and adventure.

A vagrant, on the other hand, is a person who wanders from place to place without a specific purpose, often begging or relying on charity for survival. The term “vagrant” has a more negative connotation and is often associated with criminal behavior.


Hobos often work odd jobs, such as picking fruit or harvesting crops, to make money to support themselves. They may also work as day laborers or perform other types of manual labor. Vagrants, on the other hand, typically do not work and rely on begging or charity for survival.


Hobos often have a distinctive appearance, with rugged clothing and gear suited for travel and outdoor work. Vagrants may be more disheveled or unkempt due to a lack of resources or personal care.


Hobos often have a sense of community and camaraderie with other hobos and may form informal groups or associations. They may have a code of ethics and values that they adhere to, such as not stealing from other hobos. Vagrants, on the other hand, often lead a solitary lifestyle and may have more difficulty forming relationships with others due to their transient nature.

Legal status:

While both hobos and vagrants may be homeless and without a fixed address, the legal status of the two groups is different. Hobos are generally not considered to be breaking any laws; they often work to support themselves and don’t engage in criminal behavior. Vagrants, on the other hand, may be subject to arrest or prosecution for panhandling, loitering, or other activities that are deemed illegal.

Reasons for homelessness:

Hobos are often homeless by choice, as they enjoy the freedom and adventure of traveling and working on the road. Vagrants may be homeless due to poverty, mental illness, addiction, or a lack of skills for a job or work.

Means of transportation:

Hobos often travel by hopping freight trains or hitchhiking, while vagrants may walk or use public transportation. Hobos may have more experience and knowledge of traveling long distances safely and efficiently.

Vagrants, on the other hand, tend to hitchhike or walk on foot.

Geographic mobility:

Hobos are often more geographically mobile than vagrants, as they may travel across the country or even internationally, hunting for work or adventure. Vagrants, on the other hand, tend to be sessile by nature or may be limited in their travel options due to a lack of resources or legal restrictions.

Attitudes toward society:

Hobos may have a sense of rebellion or nonconformity toward mainstream society, while vagrants may feel marginalized or excluded from society. Hobos may be more independent or self-sufficient, while vagrants may depend more on others for survival.

Perception by others:

Some may romanticize or admire Hobos for their adventurous lifestyle and self-reliance. Vagrants may be stigmatized or viewed with suspicion by others due to stereotypes about homelessness and poverty.

Survival skills:

Hobos often have various survival skills, such as cooking over an open fire, finding and purifying water, and building temporary shelters. Vagrants may not have the same level of skills or knowledge and may rely more on begging or charity for survival.

Social support networks:

Hobos may have social support networks of other travelers or friends they have met on the road. Vagrants may have more limited social support networks and may be more isolated or marginalized from mainstream society.

Criminal activity:

While both hobos and vagrants may engage in criminal activity, such as theft or drug use, the nature and extent of such activity may differ. Hobos may be more likely to engage in petty theft or vandalism to survive, while vagrants may be more associated with drug use or prostitution.

Gender dynamics:

Hobos and vagrants may have different gender dynamics, with hobos often predominantly male and vagrants including a more significant proportion of women and children. This may be due to differences in the types of work available or the risks and challenges faced by women traveling alone.

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