The Berkshire Hathaway Roadtrip Edition

IMG_1591Howdy. It’s been awhile. I can’t believe it’s been almost 3 weeks since I posted last (on that long hiatus post). I apologize for not posting some stuff along the road trip like I said – we were having too much fun and I was watching too much cable tv. Listen: we don’t have cable or any tv at home and I love getting my cable tv binge when we are on vacation. I must have watched at least 20 episodes of Naked and Afraid and at least 2 million episodes of Forensic Files. Yes, I did that rather than updating you along our travel. Deal with it.


 

So we went to Omaha and creeped on Warren Buffett’s house…

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I can see you Warren… I can see youuuuu.

That’s kind of creepy. Let me start again. Once upon a time, 2 weeks ago, we embarked on a road trip to attend the Woodstock of Capitalism…

Setting Our Sails

When I first started searching around “travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting” in Google in early 2014, I didn’t find all too much that was relevant for someone setting out on a road trip from the West Coast to Omaha. So for anyone who goes in the future, here is what a couple of West Coasters from Vancouver did and some stuff to see along the way!

We started the trip by waking up at an ungodly hour and packing the trunk of our car like a Tetris champ.

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This is how you pack for a 2 week, 7000 km roundtrip road trip.

We got to the border and encountered the oddest, possibly most racist, US border guard we ever encountered. When we mentioned that we were going to Omaha (mind you this is crossing into Washington state on the West Coast), our border guard went on a rant that went along the lines of how Omaha was probably the only area of America that was truly America. He also mentioned how we wouldn’t see so many “Mexicans” and other immigrants over that way.

Then he went off about how he was glad he didn’t have kids because he couldn’t imagine his (hypothetical) child growing up in “today’s America.” I don’t think he did his job very well because he basically went off on his rant and then let us through. I don’t think he realized the irony that, while my wife is caucasian, I definitely am not. It was rather odd and funny at the same time. What a way to start the trip.

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Why oh why did we pick the line up with the crazy, racist border guard?

We stayed primarily at places through Airbnb and we can’t recommend it enough! In Omaha, most hotels were charging obscene prices for crappy rooms. We got a room through Airbnb, 15 minutes outside of downtown Omaha, that was spacious, clean, and lovely for $100 a night. It was the equivalent of getting a suite at the Hilton. Except that the Hilton would have charged north of $500 a night for a tiny room. Shameless plug: use Airbnb through this referral link and get some free money the next time you go book through Airbnb.

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One of the lovely, cheap Airbnb rooms we stayed at along our trip.

Into Yellowstone National Park

Our road trip had 3 primary locations: Yellowstone, Omaha, and Winnipeg. The first leg of the trip was to get to Yellowstone. Here is a stop along a lonely stretch of highway in Washington state somewhat near the Gorge.

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Looking into the Columbia River after crossing the Vantage Bridge in Washington.

Butte was the place we called “butt-y” even though it was pronounced like “bute” like in butane lighter. It was in the middle of nowhere Montana. It was also snowing when we got there. There was also a Starbucks.

Picking up some provisions in good'ol Butte, Montana.

Picking up some provisions in good’ol Butte, Montana.

There were long, impossible long, stretches of highway along Idaho and Montana. I loved driving through them. We went for hours along one highway without encountering a single soul. It was quite amazing.

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Endless stretches of road in Idaho with not a single soul in sight.

We eventually meandered our way into West Yellowstone. The gates to the West entrance had just opened so it was sparsely populated. I can only imagine what this place is like at the height of tourist season. That would be something I would absolutely detest: crowds and throngs of people everywhere. It was actually a really nice time to go at the beginning of the season. There weren’t many people there and the atmosphere was very laid back and relaxed. Here are a bunch of photos from Yellowstone.

If you don't like dealing with gong shows of tourists, visiting Yellowstone in late-April is the way to go.

If you don’t like dealing with gong shows of tourists, visiting Yellowstone in late-April is the way to go.

One of the countless Bison we encountered among the roads in Yellowstone.

One of the countless Bison we encountered among the roads in Yellowstone.

I never thought Yellowstone was on my list of "must visit" places on Earth, but after being there, I can't believe it was not. The place is magical and surreal.

I never thought Yellowstone was on my list of “must visit” places on Earth, but after being there, I can’t believe it was not. The place is magical and surreal.

Seeing all the vents and steams rising from the ponds and geysers made me think I was on a different planet.

Seeing all the vents and steams rising from the ponds and geysers made me think I was on a different planet.

Apparently a 1 in 700,000 chance that the super volcano underneath Yellowstone erupts on any given day. I didn't like those odds.

Apparently a 1 in 700,000 chance that the super volcano underneath Yellowstone erupts on any given day. I didn’t like those odds.

Onwards to Omaha!

You have to visit Yellowstone if you never have. It quite possibly was my favourite part of this entire road trip. That’s saying a lot – I haven’t even mentioned Berkshire yet!

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We stopped for a night at an Airbnb room in the middle-of-nowhere-Sutherland-Nebraska. It was really cute village.

After staying a night in the fringes of Nebraska in the village of Sutherland, we made our way into Omaha.

Yippie, we made it through all these states to get to Nebraska!

Yippie, we made it through all these states to get to Nebraska!

The first thing we did when we got to Omaha was to creep out Warren’s house and his office tower at Kiewit Plaza.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Hey, it’s another creepy shot of Warren’s house!

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

So this is where those billions and billions of dollars get made…

I still have a hard time fathoming that Berkshire Hathaway only occupies a single floor of that tower. Yes, that’s right, the head office of a +$300 billion company employs 24 people at headquarters and occupies one level of an old, unimpressive office building in, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska. Amazing.

After creeping in on Warren, what else would we do but goto Gorat’s and eat Warren’s favourite meal!

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Coming from a bit of a food snob, I’m pretty sure “Finest Steaks in the World” is a bit misleading (no offence Warren and Gorat’s).

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Even though it was not amongst the finest steaks in the world, I had an enjoyable time eating the same steak that Warren likes to chow down on.

My greatest regret about Gorat’s is that I didn’t order the giant rootbeer float that Warren gets with his meals – it totally slipped my mind while I was mowing down the 32oz t-bone steak and thinking to myself “huh, so this is what Nebraska tastes like.”

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Something new that happened for this years annual shareholder’s meeting was that they opened the stadium up on the Friday before the meeting for a shopping day. We decided to go pick up our credentials and check it out. However, we did not get our credentials mailed to us and we had to wait in a humongous line to pick up our credentials.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Pro Tip: try to get your credentials mailed to you when you receive your voting materials and annual report in the mail or else you will have to stand in a line like this to get credentials from 6 ladies working 3 booths.

After grabbing our credentials, we had to join an even longer line to get inside. Luckily, once the doors officially opened for shopping around noon, the line up quickly moved.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Pro Tip: there was no point in waiting in this huge line – the smart people just loitered around the front of the line where the entrance was and once the doors opened, just seamlessly merged into the throngs of people entering.

It was neat to see all the booths set up from the various companies that Berkshire holds under its umbrella. The $1 Dairy Queen Dilly Bars, the book store, See’s Candy, Forest River RVs, Netjets replica cabin, Fruit of the Loom, and the Clayton Homes model home were among our favourites.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

So much to see. So much shopping. Keep your mind in check. Don’t let the social influence of everyone else going mad and buying all sorts of things make you an impulsive buyer. That’s exactly what Warren and Charlie want!

The only things we ended up buying were a few books (Poor Charlie’s Almanac, Seeking Wisdom, Strategic Value Investing, and a 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book), Berky Boxers from Fruit of the Loom, and Chocolate and Peanut Brittle from See’s Candy.

Afterward, we headed out to meet up with a few fellow bloggers. I don’t have any pictures from the evening, but we met up with Mr. and Mrs. 1500, Mr. and Mrs. PoP, and Jason from Dividend Mantra and his wife for drinks later that night! It’s always cool meeting up in person with bloggers you follow online and we all had a good time over good foods and beers in downtown Omaha.

Here are some of my impressions after meeting these fine folks in real life. Mr. 1500’s personality and humour in real life is just like his online persona; he’s a cool dude. Mrs. 1500 is even funnier in real life and a real kind soul. I haven’t read too much of the PoP’s material (I’m gonna go through it all like a maniac now), but Mrs. PoP is really sweet and kind and Mr. PoP is a smart dude. Jason from Dividend Mantra is a really nice guy, just like his online personality, and we had some real good conversations throughout the evening and what I found surprising was that the drive and conviction behind him is even more intensely evident than what you read online, which was really cool to see.

We all went off a bit early as we had to wake up early to get into the actual annual meeting in the morning.

The doors for Centurylink Stadium opens at 7:30 am. The REAAAAALLY hardcore people who want floor seats wake up around 2-3am and go line up outside. We aren’t that hardcore. So we set out alarms for 5:20 am and got to the stadium around 6am. Even by 6am, there was quite the line up starting to form.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

This line stretched back for a block or two down to the right of the picture and snaked all the way back up in the middle of the picture and stretched down the road on the left side of the picture.

I think at minimum you need to get there and start lining up around 6am if you want to grab some seats in the upper bowl of the stadium.

We were able to grab some nice seats in the upper bowl to start the morning.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

We had a great straight on view of the screen and were able to make out Buffett and Bill Gates down in the VIP section.

It was a shame that I couldn’t get any reception inside the stadium because I found out later in the day that the 1500s, PoPs, and Jason and his wife were all together in a section and had saved us seats. I was through AT&T but couldn’t get reception for the life of me inside the stadium. I guess there were too many people all using their phones in one, tight space?

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Pro Tip: Leave a little before lunch break to go grab some food, and come back into the stadium in the lower bowl when everyone else goes for lunch. Some people leave for good at this point and you can grab a prime seat like we did right near the floor seats facing centre.

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Our seats just a few rows up from the floor seats that we nabbed after everyone left for lunch break.

Remember when you are scouting for seats: if there are newspapers or pieces of clothing draped over them, they are taken. However, if there is nothing, it’s fair game!

The meeting itself was mainly a Q&A session between Warren and Charlie and the shareholders. Some of my more memorable takeaways:

  • There is no specific formula that you can plug to search out investments: you need to understand a broad array of knowledge and think critically.
  • Someone asked what the smartest question to ask Warren and Charlie would be and Charlie said that it was a stupid question. I found that hilarious.
  • Stocks potentially are cheap if interest rates stay low for the foreseeable future, but if interest rates rise, stocks at current prices would be expensive.
  • Believe sugary, unhealthy foods/beverages won’t be going away anytime soon and will continue to be very profitable.
  • Munger said that rationality was the single most important thing when asked what matters most to him.

Check out the longer and more extensive lists that the PoPs and Dividend Mantra put together in their Berkshire wrap up posts.

The next morning, we took part in the Berkshire 5K run. We got some pretty sweet orange t-shirts. We also walked dangerously close to Ajit Jain after the run and took selfies as proof (not much proof because I won’t post that here).

Travel to Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Waking up early again to go run 5k around downtown Omaha. Definitely do this if you go in future years – it was tons of fun!

Homeward Bound

We had a great time in Omaha. We drove through South and North Dakota to reach Manitoba. I can’t say I remember anything too memorable in either Dakotas.

Ah, free medical insurance - I can injure myself as much as I want again!

Ah, free medical insurance – I can injure myself as much as I want again!

We have some good friends in Winnipeg so made our last major stop of the road trip.

The Winnipeg skyline was pretty beautiful.

The Winnipeg skyline was pretty beautiful.

After Winnipeg, we had long stretches of lonely, lonely highway back to the West Coast.

A rest area in the middle of nowhere Canada.

A rest area in the middle of nowhere Canada.

A quick stop for ice cream in Banff National Park.

A quick stop for ice cream in Banff National Park.

One last night in a beautiful Bed and Breakfast near a quite lake before heading back to reality.

One last night in a beautiful Bed and Breakfast near a quiet lake before heading back to reality.

Wrap Up

All told, we drove 7,000 km. That’s longer than going from coast to coast across the continental United States. Definitely the longest road trip we have ever embarked on.

We broke down the trip so that we had between 5-7 hours of driving each day. This made the drives less exhausting and a bit more relaxing.

Our experience with most of our accommodations through Airbnb was just fantastic. We couldn’t recommend using the service enough.

If you happen to pass by Yellowstone on your way, MAKE TIME TO STOP THERE. Seriously. Yellowstone was perhaps our most favourite part of this entire trip. It was a spectacular, magical place. I felt like I was on another planet. Just go.

And that’s it. Hope this was worth the wait (and long hiatus between posts recently).

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