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Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom
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Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  6,685 ratings  ·  831 reviews
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 3-year transcontinental journey, working in Alaska as a ...more
Kindle Edition, 322 pages
Published May 14th 2013 by Amazon Publishing (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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 ·  6,685 ratings  ·  831 reviews

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Feb 10, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grownups, memoirs, college
It's not often that a book changes your whole outlook on life. Reading Walden on Wheels was a transformative experience for me. I no longer have any desire for material things or for career success. Instead, my main goal in life is to find Ken Ilgunas and punch him in the frigging face.

Ok, I'm not actually going to hunt down Ken Ilgunas and beat him up. But, God, how I want to.

I have disliked or hated many books, but I usually try to separate my feelings about the book from the author himself.
Meghan Gaynor
I wanted to like this book because I admire minimalist and naturalist lifestyles, and Ken has an interesting story to tell. That said, I grew frustrated with his condescension toward consumer culture, reliance on stereotypes, and countless references to his own moral superiority. The "characters" in this book (based on his real-life loved ones) were painfully two-dimensional, there only to illustrate and reinforce Ken's superior way of life and enlightened character. On a positive note, and to ...more
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
My goal was simple and straightforward: get the fuck out of debt as fast as humanly possible.

This book was excellent. Ilgunas is funny and also asks some very important questions about life and civilization. He works tons of odd jobs to work off his $32,000 debt for undergrad, and later lives in a van at Duke while getting his Master's. This is a funny, thought-provoking book. I love reading about people who are "roughing it," and while this wasn't exactly Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dylan asked, "How Does it Feel?" This guy tried to find the answer. I came looking for a story about a guy in the van down by the river (thanks NYT and LAT), but am enjoying getting there the long way.

The key, they say, to a good memoir is honesty, and this one pulls few punches (though it looks like the author has a girlfriend he thanks in the Acknowledgements, though she does not appear in the story). I like how he visited Thoreau's Walden Pond and found that even that author had taken
Jun 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can agree with many of the ideas that drive this book: college has become far too expensive; life has become far too materialistic; education is still worth whatever we pay for it, as long as it is education; for-profit university's are parasites; and the harshness of the "wilderness" is not experienced enough by enough people. I even love the main thrust of the book: live on as little as possible; be as free as possible. Ilgunas tapped into many of my own experiences with education, with ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bio-and-memoir
This is a book about panic. Kid mindlessly plays video games through his teens, mindless about school and other interests. Mindlessly follows his friend to a second-rate, overpriced private college just because. Didn’t really like or pay attention to school. Doesn’t think about work beyond working at the local Home Depot. Finally appreciates college after transferring to a cheaper, local school and then panics when he realizes that he’s $32,000 in debt and he has no job prospects. And why should ...more
Carrie Lahain
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I have been a proponent of the Voluntary Simplicity movement since the early 1990s when I happened upon a book called YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE by Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez. Through the years I have learned firsthand how frugality can ransom that most limited of commodities--TIME. I also have personal experience of the burden of student loan debt, how poor or thoughtless choices at eighteen can haunt a person for decades. So when I heard about ...more
Steve Lane
Nov 08, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
After Chapter 11 all I could see of this guy was his bad habit of putting down the lives of those that he reached out to for help along the way. He's against going into debt, or having a "boring life and career" in order to buy things like houses and cars, then turns around and bums rides and rooms from the very people he is being critical of. He touts the naturalist lifestyle, then reaches out for advice from a van living guru that just happens to pee in a can and dump it at stop lights as part ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it did not like it
I debated giving the book 2 stars because I actually liked the book and the main character for the first third of the book or so. It made me a little more sympathetic to the millennial generation -- coming out of college, faced with debt. Not because I think their situation is really so much different than earlier generations. I know very few of my peers who graduated college without debt or who immediately found jobs in their fields. But it did remind me that it's a scary time for anyone -- and ...more
Mary Holland
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Speaking as someone who abhors being in debt, I'm always interested in other people's solutions to the problem. This is a desperate and often funny tale of how one recent graduate employed some drastic measures to pay off his student loans. Before he gets to the living-in-a-van part he works at Home Depot, cleans toilets in Alaska, works as a tour guide at a national park, and does a lengthy canoe trip across Canada. What actually happens during the story is he grows up, takes responsibility for ...more
Dominic Tiberio
Jan 16, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
Vapid. That sums up the entire book in a single word. Walden on Wheels is a complete letdown in almost every respect. 90% fluff and whining and 10% life, and the most interesting aspects of Ken's life are either glossed over or skipped entirely. 3/4 of the way through the book and you just begin to get to the van aspect. What you have is an eye into the mind and world of the current generation and it is pitiful at best. Not because of the world around them holding them back but because of how ...more
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I debated about giving it one or two stars but decided on two because he did have one good thought in the book that I can remember.

I really disliked this guy. He is a hard-core liberal pushing his socialist ideas. He is so prideful and tries to come across humble. Hardly. It's like he starts out with a good thought, makes a person think and then he ends up way out in left-field so then you just feel sorry for the guy. He just doesn't get it. And he is so hypocritical.

Case in point: he shares
Nov 30, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This guy is chock full of white privilege, it was not very well written and prone to grandiose statements.
Courtney Brown
The ideas are there, but it's been a long time since I've met a narrator I disliked quite so much. Disappointing, to say the least.
Maya Panika
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly engaging account of one young student's attempts to first pay-off his massive student loan, then stay out of debt - whilst continuing to study - for the rest of his life. What starts out as a simple need to get out of debt and stay out soon becomes his life's quest: to eschew the trappings and up-with-the-Joneses nonsenses of modern consumerism and live a simple life that is also full of excitement and adventure.
The part about living in a van - something apparently frowned upon by
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was very cool! I think a lot of students don't quite see the weight of their debt until they actually have to go and pay it off. We're all just assuming we'll get a good job.
I don't quite understand why everybody seems te dislike the writers personality so much. Sure, he is a little obsessive and intense at points, and uses some overly strong names for people stuck in the system (loan drones, cubicle monkeys), but other than that they're really isn't much to complain about.
Erik Lee
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've followed Ken long before the book was published (only digitally, of course) and had been amused by his intense determination for the lifestyle he chose to carry out as a graduate student at Duke.

I, too, come from a cloth that perhaps most students at Duke can identify with: upper-middle class, competitive high school, and a drive to gain a similar, if not better, financial status than our parents in our lifetime.

Ken's profound transcendence beyond the American dream, as told through his
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: High school and college students
As a travel blogger and retiree, this novel promotes the self-reflection of one of life's most significant investments called education.

The self-reflective wisdom invoked in this story along with the can and will-do spirit of paying a debt is what many Americans and I of the past 30-40 years have questioned.

I remember several times after working 16-18 hour day to stand in front of my home knowing I'm paying a mortgage, managing interior and exterior home maintenance to sleep within the home 6-8
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
I enjoyed this memoir very much - it appealed to my consumer misfit and minimalist tendencies, as well as my love for the environment, particularly wilderness areas and the Alaskan frontier, and finally, it was a love letter for those rooting for more self-sufficient and independent future generations. An unexpected take away was wondering if a much higher percentage of the American population is criminal and/or crazy, or if the percentage of folks picking up hitchhikers is statistically higher ...more
This is a well-written memoir about a young man's journey from unemployed college graduate with more than $30,000 in student loans, to an older, wiser person living debt-free after daring to find adventure while keeping living costs to a bare minimum.

But while Ilgunas' frugality provides the motivation for the story, it's the combination of unusual adventures and vivid inner life that make the story constantly engaging. He's a bit of an extremist, but he has a fierce integrity and intellectual
Katie Ringley
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that really just touched me at the right time and probably will be one I put in the category of life changing. This is not due to just the paying off debt stuff (while I’m quite inspired to become debt free) but rather about freedom in general and not feeling so confined to societal norms. Best way to describe my feeling : YOLO

(I’m also always thankful to NOT read goodreads reviews until after because I would have had judgements going in and thankfully I didn’t feel he was
Stacy Christoffersen
I loved this book! I'm going to make my kids read it. I wish I would have read it in my twenties. Even though I'm fifty something, I still think there were a lot of great messages in this book about how we can live with less and not become slaves to society's expectations.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who plan to take out student loans
Shelves: memoir-biography
Too Many Similes

The lessons from the book are useful: Avoid racking up too much student debt, and realize that you can be happy without a lot of “stuff.” But the author annoyed me with his delivery.

1) He is disdainful of nearly everyone, including his mother.

2) He has easy answers to big problems. To an overweight colleague: “You just gotta lose a little weight.” To another who is on medication for depression: E-mail a friend instead.

3) He uses redundant adjectives: “Jay, a tall,
Aaron Ash
Mar 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: own
Why I decided to read this book:
I like memoirs where people take a unique approach to life, to become more self-reliant, and overcome various obstacles.

Why did I give it the rating: **(It was okay)
The story and the author are compelling. There are several good lines and insights. The author did some really neat things to put his college debt behind him and avoid more debt while doing graduate studies. Unfortunately, the writing is unrefined and often spins the stories wheels.

Also, the author
Juli Sharratt
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing

Just before my 18th birthday, I dropped out of college on the east coast, sold everything I owned and purchased a one-way Greyhound ticket to California for $50. There I shared a 3-bedroom house with 12 other people. And I gave birth to my son. He and I lived in a mail truck in a marina parking lot and eventually lived aboard a sailboat. Where modest apartments rented for $450, I paid $87.50. I washed boats, sold Tupperware, house sat. We moved to Washington and lived in an abandoned
Jan 17, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow!!! It's scary out there for our young ones.

This young man, unmoored and yearning for his life to begin, takes the road less travelled by inventing a way to just survive and pay off his astronomical student debts. A huge debt for an education that seemingly held no good future.

Ilgunas takes his life and future into his own hands and creates his own life as he goes along.

Living way below his means, taking on any job that will give him room/board and the money to pay off his debt provides him
Ironman Ninetytwo
Oct 10, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was an awful book and the author is an awful person.

I can't think of a person who, despite having nothing going on, is more judgmental. In this book, he shows the he is a racist, sexist person who is insensitive to orientation and basically any other choice a person has made with their life. And if you work for a corporation, YOU'RE SOULESS! You should be cleaning bathrooms in Alaska like the author. But judgmental about everything.

In order to pay off his debt, he had to work. It was a real
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At some point, students will revolt against the extraordinary cost of education, and this could be the first shot in that revolution, although Ken's approach may be too radical for most. He is in pursuit of freedom, and trying to determine what freedom means - free from consumerism, from falling for the heavily marketed ideas of success in America. I also appreciated the parallels to Thoreau and the reality of his connections to society while at Walden. The author begins to explore what it means ...more
This book truly is life-changing as I honestly could feel myself processing things differently, looking at my life from a new perspective, and evaluating things in a new way. Though I'm not about to become a van dweller, this book has helped me to see that my view of my life has been skewed and that I'll be a happier person by living more simply and redefining what success means to me. It feels liberating to imagine a life where I'm no longer defined by my stuff but by my experiences. It's a ...more
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I agreed with some of the things Ken Ilgunas says in this book and thought it was worth reading, but I found that his writing was amateurish, which is surprising once you find out that this is someone who has worked on his school's newspaper and taken several creative writing courses. Also, I thought he came across as sounding like he thought he was better than everyone else toward the end of the book, which got irritating.
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Stop the Similes! 5 32 Jul 07, 2016 11:57AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Total Pages Wrong 2 16 Apr 22, 2015 05:19AM  
Mansfield Public ...: Walden on Wheels Review by Julia Joseph 1 14 Jul 18, 2013 07:36AM  

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Ken Ilgunas was born in Ontario, and raised in Wheatfield -- a small town in western New York where his family still lives. At the moment, he's either tending a friend's garden in Stokes County, North Carolina, or traveling cross-country in his van.
“Perhaps there’s no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it’s a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal. All you have to do is take one step at a time, place one foot in front of the other, and refuse to turn back until you’ve given everything you have.” 13 likes
“We need so little to be happy. Happiness does not come from things. Happiness comes from living a full and exciting life.” 9 likes
More quotes…