Walden on Wheels

Walden on Wheels

On the Open Road From Debt to Freedom

Book - 2013
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In this frank and witty memoir, Ken Ilgunas lays bare the existential terror of graduating from the University of Buffalo with $32,000 of student debt. Ilgunas set himself an ambitious mission: get out of debt as quickly as possible. Inspired by the frugality and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, Ilgunas undertook a three-year transcontinental journey, working in Alaska as a tour guide, garbage picker, and night cook to pay off his student loans before hitchhiking home to New York.

Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled in a master's program at Duke University, determined not to borrow against his future again. He used the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline van and outfitted it as his new dorm. The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be more than an adventure--it would be his very own "Walden on Wheels."

Freezing winters, near-discovery by campus police, and the constant challenge of living in a confined space would test Ilgunas's limits and resolve in the two years that followed. What had begun as a simple mission would become an enlightening and life-changing social experiment.

Walden on Wheels offers a spirited and pointed perspective on the dilemma faced by those who seek an education but who also want to, as Thoreau wrote, "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

Publisher: Boston : New Harvest, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, c2013.
ISBN: 9780544028838
Branch Call Number: 643.290973 ILGUN
Characteristics: xv, 296 p.


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Dec 12, 2018

Enjoyable read: interesting topic and well-written. Highly recommend.

May 08, 2017

Great writer. Enjoyed the adventure he took me on. The book in its entirety is so much more than paying off debt, minimalism or an ode to Thoreau. While I may not agree with the authors point of view on all items, I respect him for what he did and the story he is telling. Well worth the read on the current events!

DBRL_KrisA Dec 11, 2016

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Ilgunas does a good job showing how he developed his life philosophy - broke college student gets opportunity to spend a summer in Alaska, pays off debt by living frugally, decides to go back to graduate school without going back into debt, so he decides to live in a van (down by the riv-) no, just in a van in a parking lot.To no one's surprise, he quotes Thoreau and Emerson a lot, but toward the end points out that Thoreau was a poseur, since Walden Pond was only a couple miles outside of town and his mom did his laundry for him (but Ilgunas did his own freekin' laundry, and wouldn't accept money from his mom, so take that, Mr. Thoreau!)
I was disappointed that, after developing this frugal life philosophy throughout the book, the author backtracks at the end and says, well, maybe it is ok to live in an apartment and take out a loan to buy a house and let your mom give you gifts of money. But only because you don't want to hurt her feelings. I was also disappointed that some of the best descriptive nature writing I've ever read was often followed by sophomoric poop humor. Some of Ilgunas' writing feels like it's straight out of English Comp 100, but at other times - usually when writing about the Alaska wilderness - it feels like it's been written by a man with 20 or 30 more years of writing experience.
I should caution the reader that, while the book is promoted as being about the author's experience living in a van ("vandwelling", he calls it), a little less than half of the book covers that topic. The remainder of the book deals with Ilgunas' time in Alaska, as a voyageur in Canada, hitchiking across the US, and working in post-Katrina Mississippi. But for the most part, it's all beautiful, and it makes me want to work harder on paying off my debts, so I can go on a wander of my own. But I'm not living in a van.

Mar 05, 2016

If you have students in the family, get them to read the part about student debt. Probably living in a van is not going to be popular, but avoiding student debt is worth thinking about.

Dec 29, 2015

A fantastically addictive read full of wry observations about life, finance, consumer culture, etc. Couldn't put it down.

Dec 13, 2015

An excellent book. I think it should be required reading for all high schoolers and university students. For parents too.

Mar 06, 2015

I'm sorry. This sounds too much like "Living in a van, down by the river!" :D

Nov 20, 2013

Started book. Ditched book after reading just a bit. Blah blah our society is so bad blah blah. It amuses me to see Americans who've lived a life of privilege, luxury, never missed a meal, etc, bash our way of life. This guy chose to go to school with the tuition that came with it. I'm happy for him that he found a way to keep his finances straight and get it all paid for. He's fiscally responsible, I'll give him that. But I don't like his outlook and I decided not to wade through page after page of a book that decries a way of life I personally have chosen. Books like this are, for me, escapism. If the author is annoying, the book goes back, mostly unread.

Oct 04, 2013

A good read for parents of college aged kids. A dangerous read for the kids themselves. It is stepping the norm that makes a life, not blindly conforming to it.

mmg2681 Sep 22, 2013

I enjoyed this book from start to finish. It's not your typical boring how someone got out of debt book. It was full of adventure and self-realization. I found it inspiring, and I like the fact that the author did something counter-cultural in order to rid of his debt. I also enjoyed how real the author was - not afraid to talk about masturbation and making me laugh at his analogies throughout the book. No, not everyone can just get up and go to pay off their debt; however, if people realize that they dont need "things" and downsize their life, it makes a huge difference. My husband and I paid off $25,000 in debt in a year and a half - keeping the house, the cars, and cell phones. We chose what was important to us, and worked hard on the debt from there. Mind you, we dont have iPhones nor do we have cable. We use the library and drive fuel-efficient vehicles. It can be done - you just have to choose to do it.

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