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Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom [Kindle Edition]

Ken Ilgunas
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 jour¬ney, 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.”

Product Description


"Walden on Wheels [is] a remarkable memoir that manages to stay light on its feet while saying a great deal about the state of modern American society. Ilgunas is a rare and wonderful travel companion. Along the way, he describes natural phenomena so skillfully that you might be compelled to flee your desk and head for the hills, walking stick in hand." —Washington Post

"Ilgunas penned the most readable of the tomes on education this year. Ilgunas lives [the educational crisis] and tells quite the adventure tale. His education – flawed and expensive as it was – pays off." —The Globe and Mail

"[Walden on Wheels is] searching and ambitious—one of the best books I've read this year." —LA Review of Books

"Walden on Wheels is a funny and poetic tale of personal growth, suburban angst, and beef jerky." —A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically

"A thoroughly endearing account." —The Wall Street Journal

"Replete with colorful anecdotes and disarming wit, Ilgunas’ account is both a goad for chronic debtors and an irresistibly engrossing true-life adventure tale." —Booklist, Starred Review

"Walden on Wheels should be required reading for every student, not to mention every elected official and candidate for office." —BizPac Review

"[Ilgunas] tells a good, refreshingly honest story about one young man’s quest for freedom, a story that has something to say to Americans, whatever their age." —Greensboro News and Record

"Walden on Wheels is essential reading for liberal arts majors because it will inspire you to follow your dreams."

"Walden on Wheels, a remarkable memoir that manages to stay light on its feet while saying a great deal about the state of modern American society. Ilgunas is a rare and wonderful travel companion" —Tampa Tribune

"Ilgunas' radical approach to life and unique sense of humor is what makes Walden on Wheels a great read." —Metro

"A funny and poignant take on debt in America, education, and making the most out of life." —Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

"This enthralling account …is richly layered with both humor and deep circumspection. Thoughtful and well-crafted, [and] inspiring to read, Walden on Wheels, reminds one that life is made up of the little things, the experiences gained, the adventures survived, rather than the consumables acquired." —Summit Daily

"Ilgunas heroically (and often comically) maps out a life beholden to no one. Standing against the madness of conformity, Ilgunas offers what could be the Walden of our age." —Andrew Steele, former head writer of Saturday Night Live and creative director of Funny or Die

"Wrapped in a powerfully told, often self-deprecating travel memoir, Walden on Wheels delivers important, even life-changing, insights into navigating your way to a saner life in a sometimes insane, debt-driven, consumer culture." —Jeff Yeager, author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches

"Walden on Wheels is a powerful narrative that puts a human face on the problem facing too many college graduates these days as tuition prices and student debt continue to climb. Ken Ilgunas' humorous coming of age story should be a warning to any student who doesn't worry about how taking on excessive debt might impact them." —Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of College (Un)bound

"Give him anger or give him tears, but nothing's going to hem in the energy force that is Ken Ilgunas." —Daniel Asa Rose, author of Larry's Kidney

"Loved this book — and was both entertained and encouraged — from page one to the very end." —Backwoods Home Magazine

"Among many other delights, Ken Ilgunas offers a fresh, provocative perspective on the student debt debate in his rollicking coming-of-age memoir—a funny and inspirational debut." —Robert Twigger, author of Angry White Pyjamas

About the Author

KEN ILGUNAS was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and raised in Wheatfield–a small rural-suburban town in Western New York where his family lives. At the moment, he's either tending a friend's garden in Stokes County, North Carolina, or traveling cross-country in his van.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2225 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing (14 May 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00B77UDWU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #76,699 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walden on Wheels 26 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The author graduated with over thirty thousand dollars of student loan debt. He decided that before he could do anything about graduate study he needed to clear the debt because it felt like a millstone round his neck. He took jobs which included free accommodation and food so that he could use all his wages to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. He worked as a tour guide in Alaska and fell in love with the country and its extremes as well as its people.

He writes in an amusing evocative style and really brings to life his surroundings and the various jobs he did while he was steadily reducing his debt. He writes about spells as a cook, tour guide and garbage picker among other jobs. Later when he was studying at graduate school he took part on medical experiments including spending hours in an MRI scanner - anything which would bring in the money and enable him to feed himself.

Once he'd paid off his initial student debt he set about finding a way to fund his next spell of study and decided to live in a van. This involved a certain amount of subterfuge as well as being economical with the truth as far as his parents were concerned. The author wanted to study without ending up in debt again. In the process he learned more than he could have ever learned by studying.

This is a fascinating book - amusing, down to earth and practical as well as philosophical in content. If you enjoy reading about alternative lifestyles then you will enjoy this book which makes you think twice about the things many of us take for granted
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the two best books I have read this year 31 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I saw this book as the Daily Deal on 25th July, downloaded the free sample, bought it as a result and couldn't put it down. I finished it on 29th July.

I reckon this book just happened to hit the spot for me (I have no idea if it will for you). I found the combination of the beauty of Alaska, the quality of the author's prose and the story behind the van fascinating. It's enough to make you want to take a trip to the Arctic - but to work there, not to scratch the surface as a tourist.

I did question the authenticity of the story early on where the author goes for a hike alone, without basic supplies. It just sounded so foolish that I wondered how accurate it was. But I did not get that feeling again.

The same day as finishing the book, I started doing something that I have procrastinated about for ages - having a clear out. If you read the book, you will understand why (though that is not the point of the book - it is incidental). I just feel that my possessions own me.

This is one of just two books that I have read this year which have left me reflecting on them after reading them.

A few sample quotes, partly to give you an idea of the author's prose:

"...In the arctic, winter stands like a barbarian horde on the edge of town one day and ravages it the next. Winter moves in without warning, grabs summer by the belt loops of its cut-offs, and throws it out of the door.."

"...With chattering teeth and fingers as hard and stiff as icicles, I struggled to get a grip on my sleeping bag zipper. Within moments, though - now burritoed in my own body heat - a warmth radiated across my arms and legs and torso, as if my bag were stuffed with sunrays..."

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5.0 out of 5 stars A Free Spirit 8 Sept. 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is quite an unusual book and one which I greatly enjoyed. The author is burdened with a student debt of $32,000 when he finishes college and I mean burdened. The weight of the debt weighs so heavily upon him that he feels he has to move heaven and earth to remove it. However, this is not just a tale of the menial, low wage jobs he was prepared to take to make a dent in his indebtedness. Ken is clearly something of a free spirit and Alaska and the wilderness greatly appeal to him so he manages to have a lot of fun and do the things he wants to do whilst still accomplishing his prime objective.

When he finally pays off the debt one senses that he did not achieve the release he was expecting and was in something of a dilemma as to what to do next. Along the way he has achieved a taste for learning and manages to get a post graduate place at Dukes, a prestigious university. However, this time round he is determined not to end up with any sort of debt. This involves him in something of a solitary and spartan existence living in his camper van in the utmost secrecy as he suspects the college authorities would take a dim view of his lifestyle.

Ken is inspired by the example of Thoreau, who demonstrated that it was possible to live a frugal existence and wrote a book on his experiences which have inspired the title of this book since he was living by Walden Pond. I was wondering as I went along how this was all going to turn out. If the author achieved a debt free graduation which was his aim, would he continue to be a free and spontaneous spirit or would he settle for a more conventional existence. I will leave you to read it for yourself and discover the outcome. This is an absorbing real life tale which I personally found a great read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Really great read not too self indulgent like many similar
Got this for free on my kindle and now buying a paperback version for a friend as found it a very refreshing way to look at the world we live in. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Avalon
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great Seller will use again and again
Published 3 months ago by wood67
4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting tale of adventure and fulfilment
From a self confessed lazy, thoughtless childhood he drifted into his undergrad education where he accumulated tuition and student living loans amounting to over $35k. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lily
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring story
While sometimes a bit self satisfied in style, this is an entertaining need. Curiously the van dwelling is probably the safest thing he does. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mr Alexander Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Entertaining pleasant read.
Published 6 months ago by KENNETH CLARKE
5.0 out of 5 stars What a good book, very inspirational it makes you want to ...
What a good book,very inspirational it makes you want to go right out and buy your own van and opt out of the human race!
Published 6 months ago by Julie H
5.0 out of 5 stars FASCINATING JOURNEY
A fascinating account of Ken's journey, literally, from owing thousands of pounds of student debt to being debt free. Read more
Published 7 months ago by White Hart Dame
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, didn't want to put it down!
I really enjoyed this book. I feel like I could relate to the author in so many ways about being fulfilled and what society expects of you. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sophie Learnihan
4.0 out of 5 stars think such information is totally unnecessary. Apart from that
At first, having read the sample, I was in two minds whether to go on but it did improve and I found it very interesting. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Cocodemer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Honest, heartfelt and hugely enjoyable.
Published 7 months ago by J. Ridge
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