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Vagrant vs. Hobo: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
A vagrant is a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders, while a hobo is a homeless traveler who seeks temporary jobs.
Vagrant vs. Hobo

Key Differences

A vagrant is generally someone who is homeless and lacks regular employment, wandering from place to place without a fixed abode. They are often perceived as individuals who choose not to work or engage with the societal norms of fixed residence and occupation. A hobo, in contrast, traditionally refers to a migratory worker or homeless vagrant, especially one who is impoverished, but with the distinction of seeking employment and temporary work where available.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023
Vagrants are sometimes associated with vagrancy laws that criminalize the act of living in a public space without visible means of support. These laws have historically been used to regulate homelessness and public behavior. Hobos do not necessarily fall under these same laws as strictly, as their lifestyle involves traveling to work, usually hopping freight trains to move from one job to another, and they may not linger in public spaces in the same way.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023
In literature and popular culture, the vagrant often symbolizes a societal drop-out, someone who has relinquished the responsibilities and routines of communal life. Meanwhile, the hobo is often romanticized as a free spirit, rejecting materialism in favor of freedom, adventure, and the open road, albeit within the capacity of working and traveling.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023
The lifestyle of a vagrant is often viewed as one by choice or circumstance that rejects the stability of employment and housing. This choice may be influenced by a variety of factors, including personal, economic, or social reasons. On the other hand, hobos historically chose their lifestyle around the ethos of work; they are travelers at heart, often taking pride in their work ethic and the ability to find work wherever they go, despite their transient nature.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023
While vagrants may be seen as non-contributory members of society due to their perceived lack of productive work, hobos contribute to the economy through their work, albeit in a non-traditional, transient manner. The difference is subtle yet significant, with hobos often seen as part of a subculture with its own hierarchy and ethical code, while vagrants are typically viewed as solitary and disconnected from such social structures.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Definition

A person who wanders and has no permanent home or job.
A traveler who works temporary jobs to make a living.
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Nov 08, 2023

Legal Status

Often subject to vagrancy laws due to lack of visible means of support.
Less often targeted by vagrancy laws due to seeking work.
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Nov 08, 2023

Lifestyle Choice

May choose or be forced into this lifestyle by various personal or societal issues.
Chooses the lifestyle for travel and work, adhering to a certain ethos.
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Nov 08, 2023

Cultural Perception

Seen as societal drop-outs, disconnected from communal responsibilities.
Romanticized as free-spirited adventurers who value work.
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Social Structure

Usually solitary, without a strong community or subculture.
Part of a subculture with its own norms and hierarchy.
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Nov 08, 2023
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Vagrant and Hobo Definitions

Vagrant

A wanderer who is not tied to any one place or community.
The old vagrant told stories of the many places he had seen in his travels.
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Nov 08, 2023

Hobo

A traveler of the open road, often seen as part of American folklore.
The image of the hobo with a bindle over his shoulder is an iconic part of Americana.
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Nov 08, 2023

Vagrant

Someone who is seen as idle and having no fixed purpose.
The young vagrant spent his days meandering through the city parks.
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Nov 08, 2023

Hobo

A migrant laborer who may exchange work for meals or lodging.
The farm hired a hobo for the harvest season, providing room and board in exchange.
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Nov 08, 2023

Vagrant

A person who wanders from place to place without a home or job.
The vagrant moved from town to town, sleeping wherever he could find shelter.
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Hobo

A homeless person who travels from place to place looking for work.
The hobo hopped a freight train in search of employment in the next town.
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Nov 08, 2023

Vagrant

A person without a settled lifestyle or regular work.
He became a vagrant after losing his job and his home.
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Hobo

An itinerant worker with a reputation for freedom and adventure.
Stories of the hobo's travels across the country captivated the imagination of the youth.
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Nov 08, 2023

Vagrant

One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home or a means of livelihood.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

A transient person who maintains a sense of community with others of similar lifestyle.
At the hobo camp, there was a sense of camaraderie despite the transient nature of their lives.
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Vagrant

(Archaic) A wanderer; a rover.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home or a means of livelihood.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

One who lives on the streets or constitutes a public nuisance.
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Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

A migrant worker.
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Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

An animal occurring beyond its normal range; an accidental.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

Also hobo bag A large, crescent-shaped handbag with a single shoulder strap and usually a zippered top.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Wandering from place to place and lacking any means of support.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

To live or wander like a vagrant.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Living on the streets or constituting a public nuisance.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

(North America) A wandering homeless person, especially (historical) one illegally travelling by rail or (pejorative) a penniless, unemployed bum.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Inconstant or capricious; wayward
"She was resolved to win my vagrant fancy" (Frank Harris).
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Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

(North America) Any migratory laborer, whether homeless or not.
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Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Moving in a random fashion; having no fixed direction or pattern
Vagrant ice floes.
A vagrant aroma.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

A kind of large handbag.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Being beyond its normal range; accidental. Used of animals.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

To be a hobo, tramp, bum etc.
Joe idly hoboed through half the country till he realized hoboing never gets you anywhere in life.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

(dated) A person who wanders from place to place; a nomad, a wanderer.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

A professional tramp; one who spends his life traveling from place to place, esp. by stealing rides on trains, and begging for a living.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

(specifically) A person without settled employment or habitation who usually supports himself or herself by begging or some dishonest means; a tramp, a vagabond.
Every morning before work, I see that poor vagrant around the neighbourhood begging for food.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Hobo

A disreputable vagrant;
A homeless tramp
He tried to help the really down-and-out bums
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Vagrans egista, a widely distributed Asian butterfly of the family Nymphalidae.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

An animal, typically a bird, found outside its species' usual range.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Wandering from place to place, particularly when without any settled employment or habitation.
A vagrant beggar
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Of or pertaining to a vagabond or vagrant, or a person fond of wandering.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

(figurative) Moving without a certain direction; roving, wandering; also, erratic, unsettled.
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Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Moving without certain direction; wandering; erratic; unsettled.
That beauteous Emma vagrant courses took.
While leading this vagrant and miserable life, Johnson fell in love.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Wandering from place to place without any settled habitation; as, a vagrant beggar.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

One who strolls from place to place; one who has no settled habitation; an idle wanderer; a sturdy beggar; an incorrigible rogue; a vagabond.
Vagrants and outlaws shall offend thy view.
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Shumaila Saeed
Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

A wanderer who has no established residence or visible means of support
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Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

Continually changing especially as from one abode or occupation to another;
A drifting double-dealer
The floating population
Vagrant hippies of the sixties
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Oct 19, 2023

Vagrant

One who lives on the streets and begs for money or food.
A vagrant was often seen on the corner of the street, asking passersby for change.
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Nov 08, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

Are vagrants always homeless?

Typically, vagrants lack a fixed, permanent home.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023

What is a vagrant?

A vagrant is someone without a permanent home or job who moves about.
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Nov 08, 2023

Are hobos part of a community?

Hobos often have a sense of community with others in the same lifestyle.
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What defines a hobo?

A hobo is a transient person who travels to work.
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Nov 08, 2023

Do hobos travel by choice?

Yes, hobos often travel by choice seeking work.
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Nov 08, 2023

What jobs do hobos take?

Hobos typically take temporary or seasonal work.
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Nov 08, 2023

Do vagrants have a fixed residence?

No, vagrants do not have a fixed place of living.
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Is vagrancy illegal?

In some places, vagrancy can be against local laws.
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Nov 08, 2023

Do hobos have a code of ethics?

Yes, there is a traditional code of ethics among hobos.
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Nov 08, 2023

What's the historical background of hobos?

Hobos emerged as migratory workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the U.S.
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Nov 08, 2023

How do society views vagrants?

Society often views vagrants as idle and disconnected.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023

Are all vagrants beggars?

Not all vagrants beg; it's a stereotype.
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Nov 08, 2023

How do hobos contribute to society?

Hobos contribute by working in various temporary jobs.
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Nov 08, 2023

What's a hobo's usual mode of travel?

Hobos traditionally travel by hitching rides on trains.
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Nov 08, 2023

Do vagrants seek employment?

Vagrants may not actively seek regular employment.
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Nov 08, 2023

Can vagrancy be temporary?

Yes, a person can be a vagrant for a temporary period.
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Nov 08, 2023

Why do people become vagrants?

Reasons vary from personal choice to economic hardship.
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Is there a hobo culture?

Yes, there is a distinctive hobo culture with its own traditions.
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Nov 08, 2023

Can vagrancy lead to homelessness?

Vagrancy is a form of homelessness.
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Are there hobo gatherings?

Yes, hobos sometimes have gatherings called "hobo conventions."
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 08, 2023

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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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