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

Why did I read it?


I have a significant amount of unsecured debt which I have been paying off for years, and I am contemplating returning to university to change my life, so this book definitely caught my eye, having read the synopsis.


What’s it about? Ken Ilgunas recounts his adventures as he seeks to pay off his undergraduate debts in the first part of the book, and, then how he secured his post-graduate degree at Duke University without going into further debt.What did I think?


Though this book was what I thought it might be from the synopsis - it provided food for thought as I contemplated my own future, and how I might manage financially - somehow it missed it's mark with me. I certainly know I could not undertake the route the author chose to become, and remain debt free.


Ken Ilgunas worked in some awful places to pay off his original debt, before living in a van, parked up on campus, while undertaking post-graduate study Duke university. The path he chose to travel is definitely different from the norm including working in a remote outpost in Alaska, working as part of an environmental group both of which included room and board, so any earnings could be utilised to pay off his debt quicker. Ken then undertook a journey with a group seeking to replicate the experience of the Canadian voyageurs of the 18th and 19th centuries before undertaking his post-graduate degree without going back into debt.


Although there are some interesting anecdotes about his adventures while reducing his debt, and he provides details of his budgets, overall, something is lacking in the telling of Ken Ilgunas's tale; I’m not sure I know what though. In some sections of the book I felt I was being preached at about how bad it is to join corporate America, or the rat race; in other places, the narration became somewhat wordy in describing feelings about places and/or people. As much as the author seemed to go 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. Throughout this recollection, I always had the feeling something was missing.


Ken Ilgunas eschews the normal path people take through life, consisting of (in his opinion) getting an 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.


"Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom" is an interesting read about one young man’s journey to find his place in the world, and getting out from the under burden of being in debt, but it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me.


Would I recommend it? Yes, I would recommend it to any person contemplating university and taking on student loans. Read this first.