Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 455–477 | Cite as

Contemporary American Transience: Nomadism and the Rationale for Travel among Homeless Youth and Young Adults

  • Timothy StableinEmail author
  • Laura A. Schad


Researchers of street life and homelessness in the United States continue to acknowledge the persistence of nomadism among the young and homeless, yet we know little about the role that travel plays in their lives or the meanings and motivations tied to this contemporary experience. Drawing on in-depth interviews, we compare homeless youth and young adults that travel with those that do not. Building on theories of social networks, social capital, stigma, and identity we explore demographic, behavioral, and philosophical similarities and differences between the two groups to understand the rationale for travel. For the young and homeless today, travel adds to the reserve of strategies to build and maintain network affiliations, acquire resources, and manage stigma and identity as they relate to the hobo and transient traditions of the past. However, when compared to their non-traveling homeless counterparts, travelers face new challenges that offset the purported benefits derived from being mobile.


Homelessness Youth and young adults Hobos Nomads Travelers Networks Stigma Identity 



The authors would like to thank David Smilde and the anonymous reviewers of this manuscript for their comments and suggestions for improvement. The authors would also like to thank Elyse Clark, Marni Finkelstein, Kevin Fitzpatrick, and Melissa Lavin for their guidance and thoughtful review of earlier versions of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interests relevant to this article to disclose. This article has not been published elsewhere and has not been submitted simultaneously for publication elsewhere.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUnion CollegeSchenectadyUSA
  2. 2.SUNY Upstate Medical UniversitySyracuseUSA

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