Lonely Planet Writer

Meet Kristy, who retired at 31 and spends her time travelling the world

For many, the idea of retiring seems like a lifetime away but for Kristy Shen, it’s already a reality. Possibly the youngest retiree in Canada, Shen retired in 2014 at just 31 with $1 million (€620,000) in the bank. Now she travels the world with her husband, Bryce.

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Kristy and Bryce continue to travel the world. Image by Kristy Shen

Back in 2014, Kristy was living in Toronto with Bryce and both were working stressful jobs in IT where they were saving up for a house. Feeling fed up the pair researched online and read investment books to see if there was a way out and it was then they discovered “Financial Independence/Retire Early (FIRE)”, an idea that if you could build a portfolio that is 25 times your salary, you could withdraw 4% from that portfolio each year to cover your expenses and become financially independent. They invested the money for their “house fund” in low-cost index funds instead, continued saving, and eventually grew that portfolio to $1 million a few years later. Since making the leap, Shen also runs the Millennial Revolution blog, to show people how to build a portfolio like theirs.

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Their retirement has given them many opportunities around the world. Image by Kristy Shen

“Retirement means freedom to me,” she told Lonely Planet. “But after you get over the initial relief, retirement becomes about choices. The choice to give back to the world via volunteer work, now that you don’t have to work for money. The choice to spend more time with your family, to travel, or to truly pursue your passion. Retirement doesn’t mean sitting on a beach drinking a margarita (though that is part of it), it’s about choosing how you want to spend your time rather than trading time for money. That, to me, is the ultimate freedom”. Kristy and Bryce go back to Canada to visit family every now and then but other than that they’re truly living nomadically.

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“This year we’re spending it in Europe, but next year, we could be anywhere. That’s what’s it’s like to be nomadic.” Image by Kristy Shen

According to Shen, the key to a successful retirement is not to be running away from something like a stressful job, relationship or lack of purpose, but to be running towards something better. She notes that while you may get the initial relief of having to no longer work, what’s vitally important is to figure out what you want to do with your time. “As someone who grew up poor in China, digging around in medical waste heaps, I never thought this would be a possibility for me,” she says. “When I first immigrated to Canada, and my dad gave me a can of Coke, I thought it was the most precious thing in the world and refused to throw out the can afterwards. If you had told me as a kid that I’d be a world-travelling millionaire, I would’ve thought you’re crazy.”

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“My physical and mental health has improved tenfold since quitting the 9-5. It’s been 3 years, and I haven’t taken any pills or worn my wrist brace (something I had to wear nearly every day while working) at all. Can’t say I miss all that. So yeah, no temptation what-so-ever.” Image by Kristy Shen

“Being financially independent helps, but it’s definitely possible to do this without being financially well-off. Travelling is much less expensive than we are lead to believe. In fact, we found that travelling actually saves us money because it costs less to travel than stay home” “I love this life and I wouldn’t give it up for anything”. You can find out more about Kristy and Bryce’s journey here.