Hands and Feet

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Dirty happy feet

The above picture shows my feet in their preferred state: naked. Same goes for my hands; can´t sense my environment through fabric. No matter how you prefer your hands and feet, clothed or bare, if you rough it out there on a daily basis, you need to be taking special care of ´em!

As previously mentioned, a hobo´s most important possession is her body. Sure, walking and handling objects are everyday tasks and so we may not appreciate what our hands and feet do for us. But once you´ve experienced painful foot infections and severely cracked skin on your hands, you realize how much nicer it is to sense and navigate through your environment pain free. Add walking a few miles everyday, being exposed to the elements, carrying one´s belongings around, climbing rough terrain, and other common outdoor lifestyle activities, and you have hands and feet in desperate need for some serious care!

Lotion, lotion, lotion

Ok guys, I get it. Rough skin is a sign of hard work and manliness. You don´t want to be caught slapping butterfly-fart-scented lotion onto that skin and, god forbids, end up with soft hands! However, for those of us who are exposed to nature´s force, cracked skin is most definitely not an advantage, especially not when paired with insufficient hygiene. See, the skin protects us from harmful bacteria out in the environment. By letting your skin crack, you are pretty much asking for an infection. So, for crying out loud, if you have the means, invest a couple bucks in some Vaseline and keep your skin healthy. It is important to note, that excess moisture on your feet paired with air tight conditions can lead to infections as well (see below). A thin layer of lotion is sufficient for that area.

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Hobo hands which receive lots of lotion every day (now imagine lotionless hands!)

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My skin after a shower without lotion

When foot meets moisture (for too long)

I am not sure there is a hobo out there who doesn´t know the struggle. Especially during the winter, we stuff our feet into socks and boots and when we release them 15 hours later, … well, you know the story. Unfortunately, chemical warfare inside shoes is not all one needs to worry about. Athlete´s foot is a common fungus that at first looks a lot like flaking skin between your toes (especially your pinky toe). Now, neither the fungus nor the gym you shower at, are the problem really. You could dance in a bucket filled with that fungus for hours and not get it…. unless you happen to stick your feet into a warm, moist environment afterwards. There are creams and meds to fight the fungus. Here are some tips to avoid getting athlete´s foot in the first place.

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The perks of getting dressed in the dark… but they are clean!

  1. Clean your feet at least once a day. Water and soap are optimal, but baby wipes will work just fine. No, the area in between your toes is not self-cleaning (your belly button isn´t either, by the way). Get in there and clean it good!
  2. Keep your socks and shoes as dry as possible. Sprinkle some baby powder into your socks before putting them on; this helps absorb moisture.
  3. Change your socks at least once a day. Wear different socks to bed or wear no socks at all (during the summer).
  4. Take off your socks as much as possible.
  5. Check for signs of broken skin between your toes. If the area is red and itchy as well, you may want to invest in some athlete´s foot creme.
  6. Keep them nails trimmed! It is very uncomfortable to have to dig out an ingrown nail.
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At the library, at your sleeping spot, in your car, …, . Wherever you can take your shoes and socks off, do it!

Basic hygiene, lotion, and air. Do you have anything to add? More tips and tricks? Comment!

In terms of general health and hygiene advise, please see my posts hygiene for the houseless and what´s for dinner.

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Hygiene for the Houseless

It’s 35°Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) outside, you’ve been exposed to the elements all day, and slowly but surely you realize that this obnoxious smell you’ve been running from for the last hour is coming from yourself. Now, if you are lucky, you’ll be able to jump into a nearby lake, river, stream, etc. and enjoy a nice bath (with bio degradable soap of course). However, sometimes clean running water is just not obtainable. Here are some tips and useful information regarding hygiene for the houseless.

Basic Hygiene

Living outside does not mean you should let go of any and all hygiene routines.

Firstly, people will treat you the way you look. Wanna take a short nap comfortably seated in a cafe? Try doing that looking like a homeless person… forget about it! If you look like a regular customer, people are much less likely to bother you or kick you out.

Secondly, a lack of basic hygiene comes at a price. Ever had one of those painful abscesses on your feet that itch like hell and smell even worse? It is rather difficult to get rid of those without some sort of medication. No Fun! Also, keep up your dental hygiene. Rotten teeth not only add to the “homeless look”, but bad teeth can also cause a lot of pain. Unless you have health insurance in a country with a good social system (Canada, Sweden, Germany), you will pay at least an arm and a leg to get your teeth fixed. It´s better to keep ´em healthy in the first place.

How to stay Clean and Healthy

“Showering”:

Consider getting a fitness center membership. It is difficult, but not impossible, to clean yourself well without a shower or at least a sink. I do have a membership at a gym and, besides showering and shaving, I also go swimming there. Also, being able to fully undress yourself (and not being arrested for it) allows you to discover wounds and other areas of  your body that may need attention. 

Do you need to shower every single day? Absolutely not. However, you shouldn’t just skip cleaning yourself because it isn´t `shower day´. As mentioned earlier, streams, rivers, and lakes (big, clean ones) are great for a nice bath. However, this is only true during the summer and parts of fall and spring.

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When there is no clean body of water close by, you will need to use spit baths as a mean of hygiene. Baby wipes are great. They don´t drip, won´t irritate your skin, and are compact. Use baby wipes when your last shower happened recently. If it´s been more than a couple days since your last shower or bath, you will need some serious water and soap.

Living outside often doesn´t allow for a whole lot of privacy. If you are in the woods, no problem. Heat up some water over a fire, put on your birthday suit, and let the cleaning begin. Urban campers and city hobos may have more difficulties finding a private spot. I prefer washing myself inside my vehicle. After covering all the windows, I spread a towel over my sleeping bag, and undress myself as much as the surroundings allow (you really don´t want a cop knocking on your window while you´re butt ass naked). I use a wash cloth and wash myself systematically with water and soap. Use some common sense: if it´s been near your butt, don´t wash your face with it!  Make sure you get as much of the soap off of you as possible. Soap residues make for extremely dry and itchy skin. Lotion will help keep your skin soft and smooth.

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Did you know that you need to actually clean your belly button when you don´t have access to running water? Well, I didn´t and one hot day curiosity overcame me and I stuck my finger in my belly button and… anyway, the point is that areas such as your ears, between your toes, and yes, your belly button all need more attention than usual.

Dental Hygiene:

As previously mentioned, dental hygiene will not only prevent painful tooth decay, but also allows you to blend in with the general public. It´s really not rocket science; all you need is a tooth brush, floss, and tooth paste. I handle brushing my teeth the way I handling cleaning my body: in private. I have a small trash can in my car, which, due to my allergies, is always filled with at least a few tissues. I use grocery bags as trash bags and together with the tissues that makes a perfect place to spit my tooth paste. However, the tissues won´t soak up much more than that, so no rinsing. Just have a drink of water after spitting out your toothpaste.

Keeping Things Clean:

In order to keep yourself clean and healthy, you need to keep everything around you clean as well. Do your laundry on a regular basis. This includes everything made of fabric such as blankets, shirts, socks, underwear!, sleeping bags, and jackets. Again, a river or stream can work here, but the laundromat is by far more convenient.

If you own a vehicle keep it clean and organized. A car that hasn´t been washed in years and that is packed with empty fast food bags and dirty clothes can make the difference between a good night and the cops bothering you. Sleeping in your car is illegal in many cities and the I-am-traveling-to-´random-town´-but-was-too-tired-to-keep-driving-excuse won´t work if your vehicle looks like a garbage truck. In addition, trash and food waste will attract rodents and insects. You most definitely don´t want that kind of company!

I have a bottle of cleaner in my SUV and clean all hard surfaces about once a week. Additionally, I empty out the back of my Ford weekly and shake out all my blankets and my sleeping bag. At least once a month, I spend a dollar at the gas station to completely vacuum out the inside.

That´s pretty much it. Do you have any additional tips, questions, or just something to say? Leave a comment!

Enjoy!