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

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In this 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 tour guide, garb In this 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 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.


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In this 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 tour guide, garb In this 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 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jody

    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. E 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. Especially when I see the author is here on goodreads I try to be mindful of not saying anything mean about the actual author even if I think their writing is a steaming pile of poo. But Ken Ilgunas was so critical, so dismissive, so condescending about every other person he describes in his book that I feel like 1. He started it, and 2. I'm sure he won't care what I think since he can just shove me into one of his buckets of scorn that he uses to categorize every other person in the world. Let me back up for a minute. The description of this memoir was intriguing to me. Guy graduates with lots of student loans and lives in a van to pay them off. (Actually, he'd already paid them off by the time he got the van and lived there so he wouldn't incur more debt in grad school, but whatever.) I thought I was going to like this guy. I'm a big fan of education and frugality and I like to read about people escaping poverty or working their way back from bad decisions. So I thought I would like Ken Ilgunas. Oh, how I was wrong. It is not often that someone can simultaneously remind me of a whiny French Renaissance writer moaning about ennui and a current day misogynistic Men's Rights Movement advocate, but Ken manages to do it. Bravo, Ken. Ken sees himself as superior to EVERYONE. His coworkers at Home Depot are mindless drones; his coworkers in Alaska are a bunch of alcoholic/addict losers; his coworkers in New Orleans are a bunch of immature fornicators; his parents are wage slaves; his fellow students are sellouts; women are hysterical and/or teases. He makes pronouncements to his parents about how he loves them, but he can't support their lifestyle choices of being wage slaves. While he stays with them for a few months for free. After accepting multiple loans from his mom. He talks about how he "helped" his coworkers in New Orleans, like how he wouldn't drive someone to the hospital to get his prescription for antidepressants refilled because he should learn to live without numbing himself. 'Cause, you know, this guy is way more qualified to come up with a treatment plan for depression than, oh, I don't know, a DOCTOR. Ken prides himself on living this independent, wandering life, and scorns everyone who is more tied down, while simultaneously using them for whatever benefit he can. I'm not talking about bartering - like, can I help you repair your car in exchange for a ride, or I'll clean your house in exchange for a place to stay. But this simultaneous scorn and mooching. "Ugh, how pedestrian to have an apartment. I couldn't be tied down like that because my soul needs to be free. Speaking of free, can I stay with you for a week for free?" (I paraphrase.) Ilgunas has a distinctive writing style. At first I almost enjoyed it - he was certainly descriptive, if prone to flights of fancy. But after a while it was simile overload. I'd hear the word "like" and dread the upcoming, over-the-top comparison that was sure to follow. One favorite: when he was describing the crappy condition of the dorms at a camp in Alaska he said how they would make Holocaust survivors think back on happier times. Really. Overall, this book reads like Ken congratulating himself on how superior and whimsical he is. It gets old, fast. Ken is playing with poverty. It's a self-indulgent, self-congratulatory experiment.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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 K 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 Ken's credit, Thoreau's "Walden" is now near the top of my summer reading list.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    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 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 Crest Trail, it was pretty good. That being said... What, you thought I was going to give something five stars and not criticize it? Well, that could happen. But not here. I sometimes found Ilgunas to be insufferable. This didn't happen often, he had a great sense of humor and this offset a lot of the... I don't want to say preachiness. Look, Ilgunas has a strong message and a strong belief in a certain way of living. I really admire his way of living. I admire the "voluntary poverty, ascetic, debt-free lifestyle" that he is advocating. But at times, I just wanted to tell him to shove it. This only happened about 3 times in the book, though, so it wasn't really a problem. It mostly cropped up when I felt he was looking down at other people. Fat people, for one thing. Actual poor people living in no-choice poverty, for another. He hates the suburbs with a fiery passion I haven't seen since Stephen King. And he's very condescending to people who don't share his values. I don't feel like this is heavy, or even overt, but there were times I was cringing at Ilgunas's (perhaps unintentional) judgmental attitude. Overall, this is an amazing, worthwhile read that I would recommend to EVERY AMERICAN. And any non-American who had an interest in it. What Ilgunas has to say about debt and our college system is wonderful and thought-provoking. In the modern day and age, it's becoming increasingly unclear what a college degree is really worth ($32,000?). I highly recommend this book - it's not a slog, he'll have you turning the pages like no one's business. When your life is all toil and hardship, the things that matter and the bullshit that doesn't become easy to separate. P.S. I know it's none of my business, but I was dying to know if he was practicing safe sex. Due to a main plot point (view spoiler)[when his girlfriend Sami tells him she's pregnant and he loses his shit, acting as if he's just been given a death sentence (hide spoiler)] , I was like "Are you seriously so cheap right now that you can't justify buying condoms? Don't they give away condoms for free on Duke's campus? Condoms! Use them!" Because (view spoiler)[there's no way a girl like that without funds or even a home address would be on The Pill. (hide spoiler)] P.P.S. The part of this book where Ilgunas works at the Home Depot really reminded me of another great book, Horrorstör, which I recommend if you have any interest in horror novels.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    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 artisti 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 artistic liberties with the concept of living free. I think Ilgunas is an adventurer in the tradition of Thor Heyerdahl or Edmund Hillary. I think a lot of this writing about living debt-free is all well and good, but there is little exploration of debt as a promise, and how Ilgunas constructed a life of not only minimal debt, but minimal promises to others. The rejection of the values of his upbringing is really the core conflict of the book, not so much the rejection of debt or even the whole van thing. Perhaps with maturity will come a future book to reconcile who he is with who he wishes to become (this is not that book). Isn't it a little childish to want to be completely independent? Isn't that the child's refrain, "I can do it MYSELF!" Every man is an island unto himself, of course, until he needs to see a doctor. Isn't life incalculably richer when you embrace family, establish a community? We see here a ton of rejection of everything from a parent to a girlfriend to an academic community, with very little self awareness to tie it all together. Where is Marcus Aurelius or even James Stockdale? Don't the Stoics, and their philosophy, have something to offer a guy living a monastic, solitary lifestyle? I don't mind much that this book offers more questions than answers. There is enough self-understanding here to justify the adventure. I find more struggle for self awareness here than in the solo "around the world" sailing books, such as those by Slocum, Tania Aebi, Moitessier. I think Wind Sand and Stars by Saint Ex will continue to be a more compelling exercise in solitary travel writing. I am looking forward to a second book by Ilgunas. BTW, Whoever decided to make this Kindle edition $3.99 had the right idea. While I think it's ironic that a book about living a (nearly free) life should cost any money at all, I can spare $4 to take a journey of self-discovery from Alaska to Mississippi, from New York to North Carolina.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    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 livi 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 living on less, and with the wild. Given the truth behind all I mention above, along with the climate of higher education today - more particularly, the political climate surrounding higher education generally - this book represents an excellent way of looking at so many things differently. For that, I think the book deserves four stars. I give the book three stars primarily because of how cynical I've become towards certain stereotypes that Ilgunas sometimes fits. Ilgunas has a fantastic story to tell, but he tells it in such a self-centered way sometimes, his message sometimes gets lost. He implies throughout the book that society is by-and-large depraved, particularly conservative-minded individuals, and more vastly more ignorant than he and those who think like him are. Even where I agreed with some of his diagnoses, I found it difficult to endure his condescension and self-centeredness. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read his book. Indeed, I'm guessing that most of my issues came from my cynicism and that most people would find his self-flattery endurable.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Happyreader

    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 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 he? He had nothing to offer a potential employer. One smart decision he makes is to follow his dream of travelling up to Alaska, being one with nature, learning to live frugally and slowly paying off his debt. Love that and loved Jack, the subsistence farmer. Also loved his Voyageur trip. Did not love the kid though. He’s condescending to everyone – the poor people who pick him up hitchhiking, his fellow Alaskans, all women who are likely fat or skanky or suicidal, bulimic (ex-girlfriend) or shrill (his mother), rich people, homeless people, black people, and anyone who successfully becomes gainfully employed. He's not malicious, more socially immature. Except for a handful of high school friends, he doesn’t really connect on a deep level with anyone. When he’s living in his van in the Duke parking lot, he starts to seem so tight with a buck, anti-materialistic, and anti-social, you almost assume he’s writing his Unibomber manifesto. The freedom he keeps ranting about sounds more like refusal to commit to any purpose or people. He’s not secure enough to own up to his own ambition and berates anyone who has ambitions beyond living in the wild. It’s his poor opinion of his fellow Coldfoot, Alaska bunkmates that prompts him to think about improving his lot through grad school but once in grad school, he looks down upon his fellow Duke students who want to do more than commit to just hiking the PCT. By the end, he has an inkling that he should have more of a purpose but he has no idea what that is. For all his talk about the value of education, his best motivator seemed to be getting away from his debt. It woke him up. To what, I have no idea.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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 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 Ken Ilgunas' efforts to escape debt and suffer a little now in return for a more peaceful life forever after, I was ready to jump right on board. Too bad Ilgunas' head is such an unpleasant place to spend time. Sure, it might have something to do with his age that he considers working for Home Depot more soul crushing than cleaning toilets in an Alaskan motel. The myth of Rugged Individualism and all that. He's from western New York, which these days is apparently a wasteland of suburban tract housing populated by husks of humanity cut off from nature and doomed by their demand for warm homes and cable television. Even the mighty Niagara Falls fail to move him. Forget for a moment that the state of New York is home to vast amounts of farmland and the Catskill and the Adirondack mountain ranges--perhaps that doesn't mean much in comparison to the wilds of the northern frontier. Hey, who wouldn't like to walk on a glacier or watch caribou galloping along the tundra? My quarrel with Ilgunas (besides his questionable moral code in which a co-worker who beats his girlfriend until blood seeps from her ear or pours water over dogs sleeping outside in below-freezing temperatures is treated with more compassion than a horny truck driver who eats too many fried foods) is his tendency to indulge in childish tantrums that blame society for his own choice to fritter away his teens/early twenties playing video games and emailing porn. Does the author have some amazing stories to tell about his time in the wilderness? Absolutely. Does he show us some hard truths about the day-to-day struggles of this country's working poor? Yes. Is he correct about the damage excessive student debt can do to the individual and to society? Definitely. But apparently these life-transforming experiences and insights, which comprise 95% of the book, are not important enough to provide its marketing hook. Instead Ilgunas, critic of modern consumer culture, allowed his publisher to focus on the 5% of the book that has to do with his time actually living in his van. I know people will ask, what's wrong with capitalizing on the current hot topic of student debt and that perennial best-seller Thoreau's WALDEN, especially if it helps another young person avoid financial trouble? Normally, nothing. But once you've read through Ilgunas' repeated tirades against capitalism and those of us who have chosen to make some peace with the world we live in--even if that world has had the bad manners to continue progressing past 1850--you'll find a problem with not getting the book he advertised. I suppose if one person reads this book and limits the amount of student loan debt he accumulates, it's worth the cover price. But it really is just another tale of adolescent rebellion screeched at ear-splitting volume. If this was 1990, Ilgunas would have backpacked through Europe on five bucks a day, joined a kibbutz, and then come home to get his MBA.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve Lane

    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 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 of his solution to cheap living. The hypocrisy continues from Chapter 11 on and tarnishes the whole idea of the book for me. I mean - you want to live the "free" and non-conformist life, pointing fingers at everyone else for working for corporations all while your mom sends your college loan payments in for you, loans you money for some of your travels, and you hitchhike from people that bought into using fossil fuels and making payments. Then to top it all off you decide to write a book and utilize much of the system you are critical of. I guess the book would work well for those that feel guilty about buying into the system and envy the guy on the side of the road with the cardboard sign. I'm too much of a capitalist to buy into this whining drivel.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    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 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 that I, too, was in a hurry to pay off that debt. (Now, well, I have a much healthier relationship with money -- though I'm guessing the author would not agree). So back to my 1-star review. About halfway through the book (maybe less), the book turned from being a story of a few years of youthful adventure and finding one's self, to being a platform for self-indulgent ramblings. The writer turned preachy and shamefully judgmental -- for someone who previously railed against his parents and friends who he felt judged him for his life choices. He's just hard to like and lacks any self-awareness. I finished reading the book only because I wanted to be sure my bad review was justified. I wanted to like this book and the author -- but was disappointed by both.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Tiberio

    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 va 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 vapid and banal their existence is by choice and deed. Ken breaks free a bit of this but never truly becomes free. His trips to Alaska are no "Into the Wild" instead he just works non-stop to pay off his debt irrationally which is what you will read about on every page, his voyageur trip is a B.S. pretend trip headed by a motivational speaker, and his grand stand against debt and college is to then go back to college for a self-admitted useless degree. For all of his bluster and pseudo-intellectualism and insight Ken never actually achieves anything... except to prove that he can write a book that tries to sound more important than it is, sort of exactly like "Walden" which he seems to have some distaste for despite, in all reality, his accomplishment of pretty much the same result. Terrible.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Holland

    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 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 his own actions, and learns to think critically regarding current received wisdom: getting a corporate job may not be a good thing, you don't have to live where everyone says you should, being safe isn't always good for you, and so on. In short, he becomes an adult. The crisis of his generation is the burden of student loans, and while I wholeheartedly agree that getting an education should not force you into penury for thirty years, no life is trouble-free and everyone, eventually, has to grow up and deal with whatever problems they have either inherited or brought on themselves by poor judgment. Ken Ilgunas's solutions are his own, and his memoir is well done, humorous, and thought-provoking. The book is well-written, but the liveliest parts are the beginning and middle. The ending drags on, with a bit too much overwrought prose (I blame the master's program at Duke, frankly) and my attention wandered. Still, I give it 4 stars.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mandy

    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 a 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 about his time in Louisiana when he was helping after the hurricane. He describes the people he is working with as degenerates. And goes on to say how these people would end up hooking up with each other and end up pregnant (as is the case in Louisiana or the South, his words). So, I think, well, he has some self-control and being smart... oh no, next paragraph he meets a girl and falls in love, blah, blah, blah, but his story is different. Not sure how he is any different than the other degenerates sleeping around? I could go on and on.... I feel he probably needs to spend less time in the University setting where so many push these liberal ideas in young adults minds and less time in his van and grow up. That's the thing, he talks of his friends, how they are so different. They used to be so wild and willing to go on an adventure, etc... It's called growing up and having to make grown-up choices. Please...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laine

    This guy is chock full of white privilege, it was not very well written and prone to grandiose statements.

  14. 4 out of 5

    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. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maya Panika

    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 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 his university (and just exactly why, I'm still not entirely sure. Ken is, at this point, a graduate student and an adult in his mid twenties. Why his university feel they should have any say in where or how he lives at all, is a mystery, but apparently, they do) - is only a small part of the story, which is really an autobiography based on Ken's eternal quest to live a different, bigger life than the one his parents and culture have mapped out for him. It does get a bit irritating towards the latter half of the book, when his attempts to pare life down to the most bare and basic necessities becomes so excessive and obsessive I began to worry about his sanity. But then Ken has something of an epiphany, realising that even Thoreau had his mother do his laundry. In the end, in Ken's attempts to emulate his hero, he winds up probably wiser, and certainly more social than Henry David Thoreau. Walden on Wheels is consistently engaging: Ken has a way of grabbing your attention and running with it. He's managed to write a genuinely entertaining account of paying off your debts, which is quite the feat in itself. Highly recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marni

    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, scarecrow-esq 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, scarecrow-esque fifty-four-year-old…” “My life was an amorphous blob…” 4) He uses far too many metaphors. A few work well, but most are too long and strained. On the aurora: “A pale green band appeared. It inched across the sky, a luminous caterpillar slowly nibbling its way to the eastern horizon.” I liked that one, but unfortunately, he keeps going and ruins the mood: “Then several bands of light materialized—all parallel to one another—making it look as if the firmament wore a celestial comb-over. Those pale bands began to pulse. One ball after another would move down the green bands like a family of rabbits being digested by a python.” On vomiting: “My throat, like a fire hydrant uncorked by a group of inner-city juveniles…” On the residents of Mississippi: “…who reproduce with as little forethought as the cicadas restlessly moaning for mates in the bayou.” (This example could also go under #1.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    ------------- Second read review ------------- Again, a very intriguing and well-told story. Having recently graduated with debt, I resonate with a lot of his thoughts and feelings, yet I don't think I'll be going to the extreme lengths that the author did to pay them off as quickly as possible. Once again, I see why many readers have trouble with his rather judgemental thoughts on other people, which is something the author should probably work on. ------------- First read review ------------- I ------------- Second read review ------------- Again, a very intriguing and well-told story. Having recently graduated with debt, I resonate with a lot of his thoughts and feelings, yet I don't think I'll be going to the extreme lengths that the author did to pay them off as quickly as possible. Once again, I see why many readers have trouble with his rather judgemental thoughts on other people, which is something the author should probably work on. ------------- First read review ------------- 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. Just because somebody chooses a different life and has different values, that doesn't mean everybody has to get personally offended by it... (Unless they are overly sensitive or bitter and secretly envy this person?)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cher

    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 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 for criminal/crazy. I'm sure it's the latter, but you do wonder after reading all of his crazy stories! Favorite Quotations: They tolerated the daily drudgery of work because dealing with daily drudgery was easier than quitting and doing something truly scary: sailing into unknown waters in pursuit of a dream. AND We need so little to be happy. Happiness does not come from things. Happiness comes from living a full and exciting life. First Sentence: On a spring evening in 2009, in a campus parking lot at Duke University, I was lying on the floor of my van, trying to hide from view.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bret

    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. 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erik Lee

    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 r 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 refreshingly witty and conversational tone of prose, makes the book go by fast. For everything that is wrong with America, Ken seems to be a much needed antidote. Instead of striving for wealth, health, and prosperity, Ken, as any good humanities student should, questions the foundational base of the American disease. Ken's mission, though not explicitly stated, seems to be one that challenges the reader to plumb the depths of what makes us human. In short, he wants what Thoreau desired in solitude: freedom to be who he wants to be and not tied down by any external force (in Ken's case, debt). I won't go into the summary of the book--that has been done elsewhere--but I will mention something that resonated with me. As a recent college graduate, I've seen my friends giddy with naive excitement as they began to land their first full-time jobs one by one. As with most accomplishments these days, such feat had to be broadcast on any number of available social media outlets. Such unreserved enthusiasm for a bind that much of America finds to be unsatisfying befuddles those who have already been a part of the ongoing cycle. Ken, on the other hand, has embraced a lifestyle utterly opposite of what many want: an adventure. Not a three-month study abroad completely financed by the bank of your parents, but a genuine, hard-edged, dirty endeavor paid for by the old-fashioned way. And, thankfully, the memoir is not only about the physical turmoil: it includes tales about his authentic struggles as an average male American living in the post-industrial America. In sum, it's a great read for anyone who is looking for a face-paced, fun story that is a true realization of our day-dreaming "what-if" scenarios and beyond. Well done, Ken!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Ash

    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 va 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 values academic education in a way that doesn't make sense to me, and never really is explained through his own experience. It would have been less surprising if near the end of the book he would encourage people to learn what they can for free, but he instead pushes for more people to find a way to get a formal education through an established liberal arts program. Favorite Quote: "I began to believe that in America, if you give something the right soil, the right nurturing, and, most of all, the room to grow, revival, transformation, revolution -- anything is possible.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marty

    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 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 hours then leave to return to work. I often wonder how much more financially successful I would be if I had used my monthly mortgage to play the stock market for twenty-five years? This novel should be required reading for high school and college students to learn and understand about pay as you go for a college education and everything else in life instead of collecting a debt. Many would say this idea is anti-capitalism, I call it "Virtuous freedom:" The discovery and learning of patience when wanting to obtain the many desires of life. This book was surprisingly a great novel and one of my top-5 in 2017.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    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 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 curiousity that keep him clear-eyed about the choices he makes. The book provides some insights into what it's like to live in a van, but it's not a how-to. Likewise, Ilgunas shares some of his budgets, but this is not a book on frugal living. That said, this book will probably inspire most people to take a second look at the costs they take for granted, and reflect on what they might gain by letting go of the excesses of modern life. I hope Ilgunas writes more books.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    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 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 with an education that is priceless. Being free of encumbrances such as an apartment, girlfriend, children, fancy cars, unlimited electronic gizmos allows him to spend several years being self-sufficient and able to discern what really matters to him in life. Stepping outside of being a consumer and becoming a person instead, for me, this is an extreme example of simple, sustainable living. Very inspiring and thought provoking. A good read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ironman Ninetytwo

    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 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 shock to his system. It really got in the way of his personal development. Every decision he made is either poorly supported or contradicted by other writing. And the other students at Duke? Some of them wanted to become BANKERS. Soulless. Some of them went to prep schools. Nobody was real like him. I bet he's a "nice guy" to boot.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    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 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 to be separate and alone in our society and balancing the need for connection without losing your wild soul. Very well done.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katie Ringley

    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 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 being superior at all 🤷🏼‍♀️)

  28. 4 out of 5

    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. 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    I really wanted to like this book. I am moving more and more towards minimalism (some say I am already there) and the whole concept of van and RV life intrigues me. Walden on Wheels... sounded like the perfect read. Well, it wasn't. The writing was not bad, but while the book sounded quite interesting it was not. The relationship to Walden is almost nill and the living on wheels part (living in his van) plays a minor role. I would say the overall tone of the book is bitter and blaming. Although I I really wanted to like this book. I am moving more and more towards minimalism (some say I am already there) and the whole concept of van and RV life intrigues me. Walden on Wheels... sounded like the perfect read. Well, it wasn't. The writing was not bad, but while the book sounded quite interesting it was not. The relationship to Walden is almost nill and the living on wheels part (living in his van) plays a minor role. I would say the overall tone of the book is bitter and blaming. Although I do have to admire Ken for paying off his student loans so quickly. The story... Ken was an uninspired high school student who did not like school. He decides to go to college because he thinks it is the thing to do. In college, he fails to join clubs, leadership role, volunteer...etc and gets a degree of questionable worth in the job market...so even according to him...he got a degree that is not valuable in the workforce and did not do anything during this process to gain skills employers are looking for. During the process, he racks up college loans...He works to pay them off going to a remote area of Alaska where room and board are covered.. He then decides to get a master degree from an expensive school...When working on his master's degree he lives in his van to save money. Ken worked hard to pay off his debt, which is great. According to him, he is now debt free. That part is awesome. The book ends much like it began... with Ken being very bitter and without skills or a career. I would say the overall tone is one of bitterness and blame. He fails to look inward or take steps to move his own life to the next level.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Juli Sharratt

    Rekindle 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 cam Rekindle 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 camper in a friend's woods. (There was a hole in the skylight which was fortunate because the honey bees we roomed with needed a way to go in and out.) I had no debts to pay off; just a gypsy inside of me that needed to be satisfied. I can't believe it was nearly 40 years ago. This book rekindled the feelings I had then. I am happy for my adventure and grateful to the author for reminding me of it. The author writes with descriptive clarity, honesty and beauty.

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