How Travel to Laos Prepared Me For Natural Disasters

It was dark night as I drove around alone on treacherous frozen roads. I had already slid off the highway once and done a 180 degree spin, narrowly missing the median wall on the interstate so I knew it was time to stop for the night. But there was a problem…no vacancy in the biggest city for the next hundred miles or so. Why? No power…thanks entirely to a freak ice storm that had caused me so many headaches that day.

It was 2007 and I had returned from my time in Thailand just 1 week before. The first thought that popped into my head? “What wimps we are!” Closing all the hotels because there was no electricity?! What gives?

Ice Storm

Lessons From Laos

Mind you, I had spent a few weeks in Laos during the rainy season. After a feeble attempt at road travel that had left me with a huge respect for mother nature, I finally arrived at my destination a day late, only to find that not only was there no electricity but no running water either! It had been the case for 3 days thus far and did anyone seem to care? Nope! People just went on with their daily lives as if nothing had happened.

Now, I get it. They’re used to living like that and we’re not. Think of all those modern conveniences we value electricity for…light, the Internet, computers, cell phones, refrigerators, heating, air conditioning…you name it! And I’ll be the first to admit that my biggest fear as Hurricane Irene trudged toward NYC this past weekend was not that any damage would ensue but that I would lose power and water in my apartment.

Closed Due to Hurricane

But had those things have happened (which they didn’t), life would have gone on. Was I prepared? Of course…I had my bottled drinking water and flashlights at the handy and even tub full of water to flush the toilet if need be (thank you Southeast Asia for teaching me that trick…). Would it have sucked? Of course!

Had that been the situation, there wasn’t a whole lot I could have done about it, so what would the use have been in complaining or shutting down my life? It’s times like these that I’m reminded of a common phrase I heard in those rainy (and flooded) days in Laos… “Relax…it’s going to be okay.”

Hakuna Matata

That simple phrase could not possibly better sum up the laid back attitude that Laotians and so many others in this world have. Perhaps it’s the simple life, not reliant on all our fancy modern gadgetry. Perhaps it’s the unimaginable horrors the Laotian people have lived through. Whatever it is, it’s created a healthy sense of hakuna matata that has definitely rubbed off on me.

A lot of unexpected things happen when you travel and you have to learn to make the best out of a bad situation. Just ask Plant Hero, who saw a bunch of his fellow stranded bus passengers acting like they belonged in “Lord of the Flies” and decided to lift everyone’s spirits!

It’s All About the Attitude…

Natural Disasters certainly qualify as a bad situation. They ruin plans and keep you stuck indoors for some time. Heck, I couldn’t have gone anywhere during the hurricane even if I wanted to since all mass transit was suspended! But what’s the use complaining about your ruined plans? So what if you have to reschedule that Broadway show you wanted to see or are bummed that the Dave Matthews concert on Governor’s Island was scrubbed?

Look on the bright side of things. You’ve got plenty of time for board games, reading, movies and catching up on emails. And if nothing else, you’ve got one fine story to tell.

And remember those lessons from the road that are handy for any sort of situation: be prepared for anything because things don’t always go as planned, and when they don’t…relax! It’s going to be just fine!

Oh, and I did eventually find a (very expensive) place to sleep that faithful night in one of the few places that were open thanks to backup generators!

Has travel affected your views on natural disasters? How do you prepare for unexpected? 



14 Responses to How Travel to Laos Prepared Me For Natural Disasters

  1. Maria August 31, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    You’re right about attitude. Get the right one in place and anything is possible and not much is too bad.

    • Aaron September 1, 2011 at 12:57 am #

      Oh ya! It’s amazing what a difference a positive outlook makes! Make the best out of a bad situation! After all, what good does getting upset do anyone?

  2. Jarmo @ArcticNomad September 1, 2011 at 1:01 am #

    Bus journeys in Laos taking a long time seem to be the norm then. I was on a bus ride just few weeks back, that was supposed to take 6 hours, but ended up taking 30 hours because a land slide had just destroyed the road. Thankfully the local houses were selling beer and laolao. For entertainment there wasn’t much anything else, expect then watching buses and trucks sliding and getting stuck in the mud.

    But yeah, like you say, what are you going to do about it 🙂

    • Aaron September 1, 2011 at 7:57 am #

      I feel like most folks would see that as a huge exercise in frustration. I had a somewhat similar bus experience back in the U.S. and the passengers nearly rioted! Now that’s a world away from the Lao way of dealing with it, right?

      • Jarmo @ArcticNomad September 3, 2011 at 3:51 am #

        Yeah, the Laos way is much more relaxed, it’s the attitude that If you can’t get there today, you’ll get there tomorrow…I mean there is nothing you can do about it, they are fixing the road, but it will take time. Shouting or getting angry won’t get you there any faster, it’ll just make you miserable. We got beer and laolao, so we made most of the poor situation. But rioting, that wouldn’t happen in Laos, that’s for sure 🙂

        • Aaron September 4, 2011 at 3:40 am #

          Haha it’s true! Things will happen when they happen so what’s your rush? So true that rioting seems impossible in Laos. You have to remember though that they have certainly been involved in armed conflicts. Remember the French? And, for that matter, the Pathet Lao while the U.S. was bombing the crap out of them?

  3. Shaun September 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    Being from Austin, we’ve never really had to deal with any natural disasters so we get excited with the possibility of them occurring while traveling. In fact, we experienced our first earthquake in Guatemala (though I slept through it >_<) and were getting ready to document hurricane Harvey while here in Utila (it was a bust). Losing power/water has also become a normal occurrence in much of Central America so we completely understand, haha.

    • Aaron September 2, 2011 at 12:07 am #

      You’re actually EXCITED about the prospect of being in a natural disaster? Trust me, it’s not that exciting, just makes a good story… 😛 Yay earthquake though?

  4. Jade Johnston September 4, 2011 at 2:47 am #

    Once the laptop battery dies…. it is aweful hard to live without electricity! I think its a sign of my addition! haha

    • Aaron September 4, 2011 at 3:42 am #

      True! But people lived without electricity for thousands of years! Sure, it sucks for all our modern conveniences, but you could always read or something. 😛

  5. Lisa @chickybus September 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Excellent post, Aaron. I especially like what you say close to the end–be prepared for whatever and then try to relax if something does happen. Makes sense to me. As long as I have water, a flashlight and some sort of shelter, I’m OK.

    • Aaron September 5, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      Thanks Lisa! And you’re exactly right. Why should you make a scene over something you have no control over…

  6. Charu Suri October 15, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    we certainly need more hakuna matata in our lives. Simplicity is the key to happiness in life. Thank you for reminding us about it, Aaron!

    • Aaron October 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

      Haha indeed! Thanks Charu!

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