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?
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.
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.”
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?