Walden on Wheels by Ken Ilgunas

Walden on Wheels

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 ...

Details Walden on Wheels

TitleWalden on Wheels
Release DateMay 14th, 2013
PublisherNew Harvest
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Travel, Biography

Reviews Walden on Wheels

  • 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 ...
  • 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 e...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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 ma...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 a...
  • 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...
  • Laine
    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.
  • Nicky
    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 ...
  • 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 transcendenc...
  • 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 livi...
  • 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 fol...
  • 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 extremis...
  • 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.
  • 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 exte...
  • Marni
    Too Many SimilesThe 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)...
  • 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 o...
  • Juli Sharratt
    RekindleJust 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...
  • 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/boa...
  • 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 ...
  • 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 ...
  • Bookphile
    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 def...
  • 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 ha...
  • 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.