Becoming the Littlest Hobo

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Thanks to my new friend Dustin for suggesting the theme for this post, in an ironic turn of events involving a lemonade shake, a mobile phone ringtone and a freewheeling conversation in Chiang Mai.  You do the math.

When I was a child back during the eighties, in between eating pieces of Lego, committing crimes against fashion and picking on my younger siblings, I used to be allowed to watch a few TV shows.

After the various terrible cartoons had finished (yes, Masters of the Universe, I’m looking at you) but before all family conversation stopped for half an hour while the six o’clock news was on, one of my favourite programmes was The Littlest Hobo.

Little was I to know that over twenty years later, this feel-good show was going to start resembling my life.

The quirky Canadian series involved a nameless dog who wandered from place to place saving strangers from an assortment of unlikely misfortunes.  No, that’s not the part bearing a resemblance.  At the end of each episode, after having met new friends and spending a few hours or days firmly ensconced in their lives, Hobo (for want of a better name) would quietly turn tail and head off back down the road.

No matter what wonderful things he’d done with people during the course of the show, the final shot would always be of our canine friend trotting off into the sunset by himself.  Many times in the last eight weeks – and in the last twelve years, come to that – I’ve felt a lot like that dog.

One of the best things about this show was the brilliant theme song.  Other than being ridiculously catchy, the lyrics speak volumes to people for whom extended travel or a nomadic lifestyle are the norm.  Go ahead, click the play button.  I’ll wait.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again

If that doesn’t sum up the life of a long term solo traveller, I don’t know what does.  As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some brilliant people already on this trip -– people with whom I’ve made an instant connection, shared some fantastic experiences and generally enjoyed the company of immensely.

When you’re travelling by yourself with no fixed itinerary, it’s easy to alter your non-existent plans to fit in with other people and, often, to spend many hours a day with them along the way.

It has been pointed out to me that when you spend as much time with people in a matter of days on the road as you might do with friends and family back home over the course of several months, it’s no surprise that attachments form fast and strong.

One day, however, those good times invariably come to an end.  Paths diverge, travels end, reality gets in the way of the happy little travel bubble that you’ve been living in.  After swapping hugs, email addresses and firm assurances that you’ll stay in touch, there’s yet another sad goodbye and the Littlest Hobo is walking down the street alone once more.

Maybe you’ll stay in contact, maybe you’ll manage to catch up again for a while somewhere else in the world.  Maybe you won’t.  Either way, though, it’s unlikely that even with the best will in the world you’ll be able to maintain the same strong relationship once time, distance and real life take their toll.  Sad but true.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on

Never a truer word spoken.  If there’s a common thread that binds the seriously travel-addicted, it’s an inability to ‘settle down’ and live an apparently conventional life.  Even when staying in one place for months or years, there’s always one eye on the road.

We find it impossible to pass by a bookstore without stopping by the travel section and gazing wistfully for a while.  We check out the sales at the local outdoor store for no good reason.  Our passports always have at least six months validity just in case a sudden cheap airfare to the middle of nowhere pops up.

After a while the call of the backpack becomes too loud, so we get rid of all of our stuff, say goodbye to our nearest and dearest and do it all again.

Why?  Because wandering is what we do.  A traveller is who we are.  Taking a two week vacation once a year doesn’t satisfy our wanderlust, nor will it ever.  Meeting new people, experiencing unfamiliar cultures and approaching the world with a sense of wonder is what defines us.

No matter how hard it is to keep saying goodbye, to continually uproot our lives, to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that this lifestyle throws at as, we wouldn’t change it for the world.  We can’t.  Asking us to stop travelling is like asking us to stop breathing.

So in the words of a 50 year old German Shepherd:

If you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, come travel light, that’s hobo style.

Sure, one day we’ll be shedding a few tears as we say goodbye – but I guarantee we’ll have one hell of an amazing time together before we do.

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  1. Great post, Dave! We’ll have to figure out a way to share our favorite ‘travel’ song, “So Long Doggies” from a children’s book…I’ll share the link on fb/twitter later today. Kudos! Well stated!

  2. Damn I was thinking I could write a companion article, but I think you covered all of the bases.

    When some friends were leaving Saigon a couple of months back, I recall them getting in the van to head home, and I just started walking away. Another chapter comes to an end and another beginning. I thought to myself, I feel just like the Littlest Hobo, and since then, the obsession with that super pooch and his way of life has resonated with me. So very fitting to the solo travel lifestyle we currently live.

  3. Dave, this is a great article. You have made me smile, feel happy, and a little sad!
    You also need to remember the wonderful impact you make on the people you meet along the way (just like Hobo) and the fantastic memories you leave us with. Whether we be travelers along the road, or those who you ‘leave behind’ in the various places you have settled in for a while, we all have those shared experiences to smile about.

  4. Dustin – you can so write a companion article. Just grab yourself a lemonade shake and a laptop, the inspiration will just start flowing… 😉

    Nic – aww what a lovely thing to say! Thank you so much! 😀

  5. Omigod. I loved that show as a kid and totally forgot about it until now! I think I’m going to start saying “That’s hobo style” from now on… I’ve been in need of a new catchphrase!

  6. Soo funny, I also watched that show and before I left people played that song for me. I now have it on my iPod. It makes me happy and sad at the same time.

    We must be around the same age, although in addition to Masters of the Universe I also watched She-Ra 🙂

  7. Sally – that should so be your new catchphrase. Dustin and I have been walking around Chiang Mai singing the theme song and making stupid Hobo references all day!

    Ayngelina – we are pretty much the same age, I think. It’s a great song – like you say, it’s happy and sad at the same time. It’s my mobile ringtone! I didn’t watch She-Ra but I’m pretty sure it was on TV in NZ at the time … think it might have been one for the girls back then! 😉

  8. I understand the feeling when you’re on the road solo and leaving one place to find the next adventure. The process of finding people and placesto connect with …. the anticipation and excitment (and ocassionally the loneliness) … all begin again with each new city.

    I was recently pondering some similar notions. Mind if I share?
    ….. about a travel song and what it said to/about me

    my favorite playlist about travel+wanderlust.

    Happy listening!

    BTW, thanks for sharing the episode. As an American child of the 80’s, I had never heard of the series. We didn’t have things like Hulu (or the kinda cable tv around these days) like kids do now … to expose us to programming across the border.

  9. I have never seen the Littlest Hobo, but that intro would have anyone hooked. I completely understand meeting people while traveling and almost feeling like your bond is greater than those back home. There is that point you reach to say goodbye, but it is all part of the process. Time to meet other dogs, I mean, people I suppose. Just having those connections for a time are worth it I think when it comes to solo travel.

  10. Chelle – nope, don’t mind if you share at all 🙂 That playlist won’t play for me (outside the US, I guess) but I like the songs on it! I wrote a similar piece a few months ago about my own travel songs actually – it must have been about right because now that I’m travelling again, I’m listening to all of them regularly!

    Suzy – can I suggest a highly unproductive afternoon in front of YouTube digging out old Hobo episodes then? Your life will never be the same again. 😉 Yeah it’s always so hard to say goodbye to people who have made such an impact on your life, even if only for a short time, but that’s not a reason not to let them in in the first place. As you say, it’s all part of the process of solo travel…

  11. I kind of love using pop culture as a measure of time. And oftentimes location, too. When you run into others who remember The Littlest Hobo, you will definitely have things in common.

    Your description of wanderlust – of being constantly in flux – is relatable. How great is it to be living in a time when the Internet can connect us with potentially everyone we meet? It feels better to say “let’s email each other” than “goodbye”.

    I’m also reminded of the spiritual traditions that mention a Wanderer archetype. Anyone familiar?

    Dave, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. May you have endless fun with the rest of your travels, where ever they lead!



    P.S. Any intro that includes a catchy ditty and a dog carrying a rifle has got to be good. Canadian TV is pretty awesome sometimes.

  12. Dave, I don’t know what your doing… but you should be guest posting on my blog. Send me an E-mail, let me know if you are interested.

  13. You just completely described our About Us page – longing to be on the road, unable to pass up a travel section in the bookstore, packing up all your stuff and heading out on the road. Some people – those comfortable with that elusive ‘conventional life’ to which you refer – get home-sick. Whatever we are – hobos, globetrotters, nomads, – we get the opposite, the travel bug. I love the travel blog community for connecting so many of us! We might not be ‘conventional’ but there sure are a helluva lot of us out there. Thanks for writing this awesome post!

  14. OMG, I used to love that show too. It’s still on in re-runs here in Canada. It’s so embarrassing to watch now, and (dare I say) so Canadian! We weren’t exactly known for our TV production value. Did you ever watch the Beachcombers???? Now THAT was a show!