Walden on Wheels

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

I purchased the Kindle edition of this book.


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 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 fol lowed. 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.”


I originally heard about this book when it was offered up in a Goodreads giveaway, which I had entered, but did not win. I then purchased this when it went on sale on Amazon. 


I've always enjoyed stories about people "roughing it", either out of necessity or for other reasons. I am not a materialistic person at all, there are very few things I truly covet (books mostly). I also do not see very many things that a person should go into debt over. I do not use credit cards on a regular basis and currently I don't owe anything. I paid my way through college and only took a small; loan out, which I paid off as soon as possible. I took out a loan for my car as it was a necessity and again, I paid it off as soon as possible. The thought of owing money to anyone makes me uncomfortable, especially if it's an unnecessary debt (i.e. credit cards).


I really enjoyed Ken's story. I won't say that I learned anything new from it. I won't be buying a van of my own to live in, but I did feel inspired by Ken's journey and feel even stronger about not going needlessly in debt...especially if there's a way around the debt. I feel inspired to try to be more mindful about spending. 


This is a memoir, not a how to guide so I would not recommend this book for someone who is trying to work towards a debt free life, but for someone who is looking for a little inspiration or a book about living a little bit differently...I think this is a great place to start.