I never go to the Ridgway library without finding something that strikes my fancy. Browsing the new book section the other day, I picked up Walden On Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt To Freedom by Ken Ilgunas.
Ilgunas, like many college students, borrowed a significant amount of money to fund his undergraduate education. After one year at a private college, he transferred to a public school and moved in with his parents to save money. Despite this, he graduated with $32,000 in student loan debt. Rather than stretching his student debt out over the maximum amount of time, Ilgunas launched what can only be called a crusade against his debt. While working low paying jobs but minimizing his housing and food expenditures, he paid the debt off quickly. This realization of how much it costs to live according to America’s middle class rules compared with how cheap it is to live “non-traditionally” dominates the first part of the book. There is little groundbreaking here: put nose to the grindstone and one can pay off debt quickly.
The second part of the book discusses how Ilgunas lived in a van on the Duke University campus while getting his masters degree. This section is quite a bit more interesting than paying off debt. While Ilgunas successfully lived in his van, he experienced pretty extreme loneliness since he was trying to keep his way of life so secretive. As I read the book, I kept thinking of ways that he could have been more comfortable most notably driving to a park away from campus to clean and air out the van occasionally and making non-student friends in town. As outside the rules as living in your vehicle on campus might be, I had to agree that a college campus wouldn’t be that difficult of a place to make it work; especially somewhere fairly temperate like North Carolina.
If you haven’t read any “get out of debt and travel” books, pick this one up. If you’ve already been curious about the topic, I recommend just reading Ilgunas’ breakout Salon article “I live in a van down by Duke University” for a more concise look at his interesting story.