Interview Series – Minimalist who wants to step foot on all Seven Continents before the age of 35

This interview is about a friend of mine, Yong Sheng, 30 who aspires to travel to the seven continents before he reaches the age of 35. He is also a practicing minimalist with a keen interest in investing and photography. Currently, he is working as an operation executive in a logistic firm. I’m very impressed with how focus he is on his goals and with his permission, have decided to share his story to a bigger audience. We hope that this would inspire more young people to live their dreams. Travelling to the seven continents is definitely in one of my bucket list as mentioned in my FI plan.

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1) Who or what trigger your thoughts on minimalism?

The first person I would say is Warren Buffett as I always admire him for how simple his living habits are even though he is one of the richest man in the world.  I always tell myself that I am really fortunate to be able to meet many people from all walks of life through my school, work and hobbies. These gave me an opportunity to have a glimpse of how their lifestyle is, how they face their personal problems, what makes them happy and how they think at different stages of their life. All these open conversations allow me to slowly mould the kind of lifestyle I want to live.

I know a few older friends who retired before the age of 50 and I really admire how they are able to do the things they love such as travelling, photography, volunteering and spending more time on their personal hobbies. One of the common traits I observed is that all of them have simple habits and lifestyle. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore, then is not an act, but a habit” as quoted by Aristotle – Greek Philosopher and Polymath.

I also realize that by keeping my lifestyle simple, it could help me save up a lot over a period of time. I could use the money to invest for retirement, travel or learn something new. I’m really surprise by how little I actually need to maintain a simple lifestyle. The lesser I need, the happier I am.

2) When did you start learning about investing and what are your financial goals?

I started to know a bit about investing about two years ago through my younger brother who works in the finance industry. He gave me basic ideas of what investing is about and how to plan towards your own financial goals. I further enhanced my financial knowledge through the internet and books. My dividend portfolio is a combination of REITs, blue Chips and ETFs. My biggest financial goal is to clear off my mortgage before I retire (even though I do not have a mortgage to service right now but would see that been part of a financial outlay in future) and hopefully into the golden years, I would still be able to do something fulfilling in life. These might include volunteering, photography or maybe creating a YouTube video to document my journey of volunteering around the world. It will definitely be a bonus if I could meet my financial goals earlier.

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3) When did you start having this dream of travelling to the seven Continents before you reach age 35?

I came out with this idea two years back after my first solo trip to Europe which was encouraged by my dad. He told me that he has been working most of his life to support the family and thus he did not have the opportunity to travel much. I aim to achieve this dream before settling down with a family.  Work wise, it has been taking up quite a bit of my time as well and I was thinking, why don’t I try doing something memorable in my lifetime? And that should be the main motivator for myself. Travelling to all the 195 countries in the world is extremely time and resource consuming. Thus, I started drafting a plan to travel to all the 7 continents in the world instead, and that to me, was something that I felt was achievable.  While planning for this in the initial stages, I had originally planned to complete the feat within 5 years. However, looking at my current situation, I might be able to achieve this within the next 3 to 4 years instead.

4) Which continents have you gone to so far and where are you planning to go next?

I have been to Australia, Asia and Europe so far. The next upcoming trip will be in December 2018 and will cover mainly two continents, South America and Antarctica. These will be followed by Africa and North America. So what after I have achieved my dream of travelling to the 7 continents? For now, I am toying with travelling across the 5 Big Oceans on earth.

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5) How do you budget, save and plan for all these trips?

I will normally do my research based on the total projected cost of the trip and look into my monthly expenses.  I would try to eliminate those unnecessary spending such as expensive meals, takeaway coffees and only purchase the necessities. These will allow me to save up more in order to reach my savings goal for these trips. I would even sell some of my stuff online to raise funds for these trips. Recently, I sold my triathlon bike which I have not been using since I started working. In addition, monthly, I will divide my salary into 4 “funds”.

Fund 1 is for investment (REITS, ETFs and blue chips)

Fund 2 is for my monthly expenses, and I will transfer a fix amount of money to this fund. If I spend less, the money in this fund will grow and it helps me to monitor my spending too.

Fund 3 is my petty cash fund and I will use it for anything not accounted for.

Fund 4 is subdivided into a few categories like emergency funds, travel and all others.

I use Microsoft Excel to monitor all these funds so I’m able to keep track where each dollar goes to.

For my upcoming trip which covers both South America and Antarctica, it took me almost 3 years to plan . The duration of this trip will be approximately seven weeks and the total budget is about SG$36,000. You may check out the below recommended operators if you are interested to go on these epic trips.

https://oceanwide-expeditions.com

https://www.quarkexpeditions.com/en

https://www.gadventures.com/

http://www.auroraexpeditions.com.au/

6) Share with us your thoughts when you first went to Svalbard – the most northern civilization in the world?

Svalbard is an island that belongs to Norway which has a latitude of 78 degrees north. It is also widely regarded as one of the northernmost settlements in the world, mainly inhabited by researchers who are based there for various research subjects. I feel Svalbard is a very interesting place in this cold part of the world because you get to see how people there actually live in drastic conditions with temperatures ranging from -16  to 6 degrees Celsius. The population of the settlement there are almost equivalent to the number of polar bears in Svalbard. During winter, there will be a polar night where there is no day light for more than 24 hours. The structure of all the buildings and pipings are built above ground due to permafrost which might destabilize the building foundation.

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There are so many interesting facts about this town and one of them is that anyone living there must be independent and self sufficient. They are not allow to be buried there as the body cannot decompose in this cold temperature environment. The world’s largest seed vault is also built on this island to ensure against the loss of seeds in other genebanks during large-scale regional or global crisis. I remember a year after I visited their main settlement Longyearbyen, a fatal avalanche destroyed 10 homes and killed 2 people in that disaster. Sometimes you wonder why people would want to choose to live in such drastic environment and the answer I got from my guide was that the tax rate in Svalbard is significantly lower than Norway. Till now, this island has left a very incredible foot print in my life and I wish to go back again during summer time and capture photos of wild polar bears.

7) You were saying that you love photography and you hope that by sharing your travel photos, you will be able to inspire the next generation by living their dreams too. When did you start having these thoughts?

I feel I am really blessed in life as I am born into a typical middle class family in Singapore. I have a very supportive family and I will always reach out to them if I need advice. I was thinking it would be great if I could use my travel experiences to inspire other young people to live their dreams. For that, I thank you for the opportunity to publish my story on your blog.

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8) You were saying that you would wish to give back to the society. How do wish to go about doing so? 

Actually, I have this idea to show my travel photos to those less fortunate kids living in poorer countries. I hope that by showing these photos during my overseas volunteering trips, it will inspire them to strive and work hard towards their dream of exploring this beautiful world we have. I also want to promote the idea of giving back to the society to the younger generations in Singapore. For them to be aware of how fortunate they are as compared to some other kids in this world who do not have a shelter over their head nor access to clean water. I hope I can inspire them to live their dreams and help the underprivileged in their lifetime.

9) Any advice you would give to a younger self? Like starting to invest or dream earlier.

I always believe that it is really important to know what you actually want in life and always keep an open-mind to other people’s advice. The more you explore, the more you will understand yourself better.

As for investing, it is always good to start early but you must know your main objective for investing by setting realistic financial goals. Do not just invest because someone else tells you to do so.  It is always good to have dreams but it must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.

Below are some travel photos courtesy of Yong Sheng and you may contact him via his email raptors_87@hotmail.com if you have any questions for him.

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