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Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom | [Ken Ilgunas]

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

The story of a student who went to extraordinary lengths - including living in a van on a campus parking lot - to complete his education without sacrificing his financial future. In a frank and self-deprecating voice, memoirist Ken Ilgunas writes about the existential terror of graduating from college with $32,000 in student debt. Inspired by Thoreau, Ilgunas set himself a mission: get out of debt as soon as humanly possible. To that end, he undertook an extraordinary three-year transcontinental journey.
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Publisher's Summary

The story of a student who went to extraordinary lengths - including living in a van on a campus parking lot - to complete his education without sacrificing his financial future. In a frank and self-deprecating voice, memoirist Ken Ilgunas writes about the existential terror of graduating from college with $32,000 in student debt. Inspired by Thoreau, Ilgunas set himself a mission: get out of debt as soon as humanly possible. To that end, he undertook an extraordinary 3-year transcontinental journey, driving to Alaska and taking a series of low-paying jobs. Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled himself in a master's program at Duke University, using the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline, his new "dorm." The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be an adventure, a challenge, a test of his limits. It would be, in short, his "Walden on Wheels."Ilgunas went public in a widely read Salon article that spoke to the urgent student debt situation in America today. He offers a funny 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."

©2013 Ken Ilgunas (P)2013 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What Members Say

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  •  
    Mr. Panama City, FL, United States 06-27-14
    Mr. Panama City, FL, United States 06-27-14 Member Since 2007

    Jonnie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "College humor and philosophy but a fun read"

    Ken is a very good writer. He is the kind of person who can take a very ordinary situation and make it funny and entertaining. Ken's situations through college and the after years were very common.. Probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of students had more interesting lives and stories. Yet he was able to consistently write about these circumstances in such a way that I laughed about them throughout the entire book. His attempts at expounding on life got a bit much but they were overall brief so they were tolerable. Overall I enjoyed his book and would read more of his work.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gypsyjolie Madison, WI, United States 02-22-14
    Gypsyjolie Madison, WI, United States 02-22-14 Member Since 2011

    audiobook addict

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    "the author had little wisdom to share"

    Not a guide to living frugally (as I had hoped), this is the memoir of a college student that awakens to his plight of being heavily indebted for student loans but with little tolerance for office jobs. Ken is engaging and interesting but definitely a bit unusual. The length he goes to to get solitary jobs in the great outdoors and in Alaska to pay off his debt show a penchant for isolation and rigid self-control. He talks of living a simpler life but most of us are not willing to live in such isolation, eating only subsistence foods (peanut butter spaghetti stew, anyone?), living without necessities like a winter coat or heat in winter. Ken gets awfully preachy and overly philosophical in between anecdotes, to the point where it sounds like he is trying elevate his choices to a greater philosophical meaning that I am not sure even Ken believes. It loses its edge of truth.

    Interesting, sometimes tedious, offbeat memoir, but I don't think his lessons will last in my mind other than his valid warning about not accruing mindless debt.

    30 of 36 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shawn 01-10-14
    Shawn 01-10-14 Member Since 2013

    Casual listener.

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    "Interesting, entertaining, and inspiring."
    Would you listen to Walden on Wheels again? Why?

    Yes. I found the book to be very entertaining. The narrator did a great job, and the material itself was very enjoyable to listen to.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Walden on Wheels?

    The entire first half of the book was entertaining and very memorable.


    Which character – as performed by Nick Podehl – was your favorite?

    Ken, without a doubt.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Sure! I enjoyed every minute of it.


    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 05-20-14
    Daryl Edmonton, Alberta, Canada 05-20-14
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    "I loved this book!"
    If you could sum up Walden on Wheels in three words, what would they be?

    Engaging, self-depricating, wonderful!


    Which character – as performed by Nick Podehl – was your favorite?

    I don't have one... but his narration was impressive! I wish he narrated more books that interest me; he is such a talent!


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Ken's work in Alaska and Mississippi, his fear and dread about his debt.


    Any additional comments?

    This book should be required reading for any high school student headed off to college. Debt - both student debt and consumer debt - is at critical levels both in Canada and the USA. While Ken does not romanticize many of his actions, he is frank about the dread of being $32,000 in student debt. With a bit of luck and a spirit of wanderlust, he was able to pay it all off in a few short years, and still go to grad school debt-free. He grows up considerably in his mid-twenties, and I can't wait to see where the next few years lead him.

    8 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gzl5ry Oakland, MI, United States 07-29-13
    gzl5ry Oakland, MI, United States 07-29-13 Member Since 2013

    Always open to something new, but my favorite genres are horror, sci-fi/fantasy with more of a leaning toward fantasy.

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    "Fantastic Book!"
    What made the experience of listening to Walden on Wheels the most enjoyable?

    I loved a lot about it. I could appreciate Ken's passion about paying off his student loans, about not wanting to live in debt, his frustration over the job market and the passion with which he came to embrace the wild. He has a tremendous amount of passion for life.


    What other book might you compare Walden on Wheels to and why?

    None that I can think of. I never read Walden so I can't make that comparison. Maybe I will read it now.


    What does Nick Podehl bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I thought he read it very well. He's a little weak on female voices but overall he was smooth and brought out the emotions felt by Ken, his buddy, his mother and so on. Good choice to read the book.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The entire book was enjoyable, can't think of any particularly dull moments.


    Any additional comments?

    Great book and I highly recommend it.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    matthew san diego, CA, United States 05-31-13
    matthew san diego, CA, United States 05-31-13 Member Since 2008

    I am an English teacher in China and can now read and write some Chinese.I have been to 13 countries on 4 continents.I am an avid audiophile

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A delightful foray into simple freedom"

    The first half of the book is about a young college students pursuit of a less than ordinary life after plunging into significant debt.He has some great ideas and moves to Alaska for a summer,where he works for small money,but has a free accommodation.He manages to fulfill his travel lust and pay down his loan with a year of work there.His cohorts were not the pillars of society,but he stuck it out and paid down his debt.Next he goes to Mississippi to work for the forest service.Again he meets lots of strange people.Except for one special girl.The two of them fall in love and when work is up after the second round of 3 month stints they hitchhike to his parents home in Niagara Falls,New York over the course of a month.The author having read Theroeau decides to return to graduate school and is accepted at Duke.Having paid off his debt completely after a second summer working a pretty good job for the parks service in Alaska.He decides he will live in an inexpensive van so as not to incur additional debt.He manages to keep this a secret for two years.In one of his final courses on creative writing he reveals his secret in a paper.The professor recommends he publish the well written paper.He even gets a three year writing job offer from a magazine which he declines.He seemed to have learned a great deal from this arduous living and there are many other moments I have left out here.Buy the book and support this guy.I realize I am perhaps a fellow misanthrope like the author I too have been trying to discover and alternate kind of happiness living abroad for the last 4 years.

    11 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine Jourdan Winston-Salem, NC 10-04-14
    Catherine Jourdan Winston-Salem, NC 10-04-14 Member Since 2014

    Co-author of People Skills Handbook: Action Tips for Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

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    "Great 'coming of age' story (and travel adventure)"
    Any additional comments?

    It was with great interest and pride that I read Ken’s book, Walden on Wheels. As someone who came to know him during his time at Duke, while he was writing articles for classes that eventually morphed into Walden on Wheels, I had a real hope that his book would reflect the person I had come to know. When you have a personal relationship with someone you want to believe in them and to genuinely endorse their work with truth and enthusiasm. Thus it is with some pride, (and a little bit of relief!) that I am able with utter confidence to recommend Walden on Wheels. Ken is the genuine article. He is humble, honest and seeks to live his life in a way that allows him to be true to himself and his values.
    As a psychological professional I am more interested in the ‘coming of age’ aspect of Ken’s story then his travels or how he paid off his college debt. There is one experience in the book, when Ken describes his first real encounter with the wildness of Alaska. He and his closet metrosexual friend, Paul, wanted to test their manhood by climbing the biggest mountain in the area of the Brooks Range near Coldfoot, their hometown for the summer. Being ‘green’ they began their trip unprepared for the rough terrain and the nearness of bears, as evidenced by the numerous bear tracks nearly everywhere they went. After several hours of hiking blisters formed that made going forward nearly impossible. Paul decided to go back to the camp but for reasons that Ken could not completely understand or articulate, he felt the need to move forward into the unknown, dangerous territory of the Alaska wild. In doing so he also journeyed to parts of himself never before explored and discovered something about himself that only 20 hours alone, with no idea of where he might end up can offer.
    As for the narration, it is very competent. Not the best I have ever heard but he does a very credible job. I enjoy hearing Ken read excerpts from his own writings!
    Watch for Ken’s next book on his adventures hiking the entire Keystone Pipeline trail, from Canada to Texas! There is a fun encounter with cows!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Jackson Everett, WA United States 04-20-14
    K. Jackson Everett, WA United States 04-20-14 Member Since 2010

    K. L. Jackson

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    "Absolutely hilarious, inspiration without schmalz"

    This audiobook had me hooked from the start, and I listened to it almost nonstop within a day. It is full of laugh-out-loud self-deprecating humor, woven in with the wisdom that comes from living an authentic and principled life. I am decades older than the author, but still paying off student loans and facing various financial nightmares. Like many of my generation, my financial life is far from what I had imagined it would be. This book was a welcome reminder that there are many ways to find meaning and adventure in life, and that financial security is not the only measure of success.

    The narrator is excellent; it's easy to imagine that it was actually the author telling the story. He was skilled in altering his voice to portray a variety of people, with great comic effect. I am sure that I will listen to this book again at some point in time.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Kos Croatia, Europe 12-14-14
    K. Kos Croatia, Europe 12-14-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Great personal quest for simple life"

    Although I was attracted to this book because of the "living in the van" theme, I was pleasantly surprised by much broader theme and Kens introspection regarding his life and schooling choices.

    Mr. Podehl did excellent narration job - in fact it he was so blended with the character that at one point I went to check if the author did the narrating. Kudos!

    It was a pleasant trip to modern young people's mind - especially the curious one like Ken Ilgunas who chose some unusual paths.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    benjamin United States 01-11-14
    benjamin United States 01-11-14 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
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    "this should be required reading in high school"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    It is a good story. But the writing needs work. No wonder he was turned down by most graduate schools for writing.


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    Was an expected ending


    What about Nick Podehl’s performance did you like?

    Very good


    What else would you have wanted to know about Ken Ilgunas’s life?

    Nothing


    Any additional comments?

    The writer uses too many analogies. All you need to use is one to get your meaning across. I lost count of the times he would ramble on with 3 or more analogies for every situation. Yea, I got it on the first one.

    4 of 9 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 10 results
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  • Sile
    Kent, England
    6/25/13
    Overall
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    Story
    "An adventure that lacks ... something"

    Here, Ken Ilgunas recounts his adventures as he seeks to pay off his undergraduate debts in the first part of the book, and, in the second, how he lived in order to secure his post-graduate degree at Duke University. This book appealed because I have my own unsecured debts, and a desire to return to university.

    Although this book lived up to its synopsis, it was not exactly what I hoped it might be, but it though Mr Ilgunas's experiences did provide food for thought, though I now realise I could not follow in his footsteps.

    Ken Ilgunas worked in in a remote outpost in Alaska to pay off his original college debt, then undertook a canoe journey with a group seeking to replicate the experience of the Canadian voyageurs of the 18th and 19th centuries; before doing his post-graduate degree all without going back into debt.

    Although there are some interesting anecdotes about the adventures, and details of his budgets are provided, overall, I was not overly enthused by this book. Some sections I felt I was being preached to,in others, the narration became too wordy in describing feelings about places and/or people. As much as it appeared Ken Ilgunas went into detail, I’m not sure I really know just how he did cope on a day-to-day level under the strict, self-imposed budgetary, and living conditions; I always had the feeling something was missing from these recollections.

    The author seems to berate the normal path people take through life, consisting of (in his opinion) getting and education, working in a job they may dislike to paying off the debts they accrue getting that education, getting a mortgage, continuing to work in a job they dislike to pay off the mortgage and other consumer debts, then retiring without having really lived. It’s a point-of-view held by many who seek the simpler life, but others may disagree believing it is more about “dropping out” of humanity, something which Ken’s mother hints at in the book.

    The narration by Nick Podehl was quite well done, though I did query the pronunciation of some words, but this might have been accounted for by the difference between American and UK English. The audio edition I downloaded from Audible was crisp, clear and without any faults.

    I would recommend this to anyone contemplating university via student loans, but I'm not sure it would be all that helpful to those that do want to take the corporate path.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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