Travel & Life with no Electricity, coming soon to a country near you!

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 28th, 2010. Updated on September 22nd, 2014. Published in: Travel blog » Discover World Culture » How to live overseas » Philippines.

Travel & electrical outages are manageable for the short term. For long term travelers and those living with random interruptions it can be a very different matter.

Newspaper headline in the Philippines about the power outages

Yep, Doomsday is approaching it seems

What is it like to live with no Electricity?

A failing electrical supply has made the President of The Philippines turn Mindanao into a “state of calamity”, others want a “state of emergency”.

Hence writing a travel blog without electricity is becoming increasingly difficult these days!

What’s happening, to me, is utterly mind-boggling. For the last 6 weeks there have been enforced national power outages imposed by the Philippine National Power Grid. They sell electricity to smaller companies to deliver electricity throughout the country, but still remain the source. These companies are rationing electricity ranging from 5 hours, to 16 hours.

Causes & pre-planning of no electricity

According to National Grid, it’s a lack of rain to fill the dam. Do I believe them? Well …

Why wait until the dam reaches critical point before imposing electrical outages. Surely this could have been scaled in months ago, and not in the last 6 weeks?

Is this the typical Filipino/Asian/developing country thing of “lets hope & pray the rains come to save us?

Or is it more to do with the fact we are just weeks away from a general election?

Election poster in the Philippines

Road building & elections in the Philippines seem to go hand in hand

As I travel around its amazing to see how many roads have only just recently been paved and sealed? Of course the huge signs over such roads reminding everyone who paid for it, who did it, and who’s up for election in a few weeks serve as a none to subtle hint.

Talking to locals, it seems, unfortunately, that this tactic does indeed work.

A defeated mindset

Again,  most surprising about all this, to me, is the lack of interest the electrical outages are having with the general public. It’s as if the life has been taken from them. There is no more spark in the Pinoy spirit.

I talked with a taxi man the other day. He shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s all about the election. People are vying for a different kind of power in this country.”

A sample of life right now with no electricity

Half on Half off, lighting during Electricity rationing in a Philippines mall

Only every other light is on these days

Today as I travel in search of electricity so I can write this travel journal I ended up at one of the big malls. However, the once sparkling super cooled leisure complexes are now dimly lit warm humid boxes. They too are being rationed.

“The supermarkets have taken on a strange smell as steamy mists rise from the meat counters into the warm humid atmosphere.”

What’s more, there are much fewer people here than usual. The coffee shop’s are virtually empty, the employees are forced to call out for your custom more than ever. But, it’s too hot to stay in the malls these days. Which to those that know, cuts off a vital social & cultural gathering point.

More amusingly; the positive effect in all this is that the escalators are also switched off. For the first time I am seeing Filipino’s being forced to take more exercise. A good thing, for a developing “fast food” nation!

Lack of electricity is spreading worldwide

This is the fourth or fifth country I’ve traveled and stayed that is now suffering from serious power outages. West Africa has a near constant and random black out phase. Nepal is currently only serving up 2 hours of electricity during daylight hours. Pakistan is not too bad, but random electricity outages are frequent. And now, the Philippines has joined this infamous club.

Globally it’s known electricity is becoming harder to supply. The U.K. Minister for Energy recently warned that Britain may have shortages in the future too. The U.S.A.’s auto industry is an indication of what happens when you think there is a never-ending resource.

This all effects tourism & travel to an extent, but day-to-day life even more so.

Traveling through these countries; the main cause for electricity shortages, in my view,  is politics, followed by a lack of planning and infrastructure.

The saddest thing for me to witness though, is that in all these countries, it’s the people that seem to be failing themselves. They seem to have literally just given up on wanting something better.

Think about the future

In the Philippines if you have electricity right now, it doesn’t mean everything works! Turn on the T.V. and there might be no reception because the T.V. station is having an outage in their sector at the moment, the same with internet connections, mobile coverage and even the water supply.

I believe electrical outages will start to become more frequent in many more countries soon, including developed ones. And, I don’t see anything from preventing it.

It will become like many more things today, the richer classes will be able to afford electricity, either through priority lines, or generators. The poorer classes will not have any at all.

And, so it will be yet one more burden for those striving to achieve something in life to struggle with.

For travel it will be the added question of “Do you have a generator?”

How many people know about load shedding and the cost of generators? Which in turn equals fuel shortages, increased pollution and the cost of buying inverters, stabilizers and surge protectors.

Ugly generator engine used during electricity outages

Travelers will be looking out for generators in the future

How does it affect this travel blog?

For me it means I might not be able to write my travel journals as frequently here, nor respond to comments so quickly at the moment.

For others it means the foreclosure of a business, a failed surgery, no water, or at the very least, no light in sweltering heat.

I wonder how people in other nations would react?  Can you travel in the same way with electrical outages?

I can’t, though I do cope.  But coping gets tiring after a while.

Saturday was Earth hour. One hour without electricity to promote the environment. Some electrical company’s have different ideas though, and are not turning on the electricity for 1 hour.  Who needs to, with rationing ongoing already? Instead the polluting generators will kick in. There is a missing point here.

They did however turn it all on for 24 hours when national hero Manny Pacquiao fought a boxing match recently. Priorities …

Have you lived or traveled in a country with electricity rationing?

How many people reading this really know what it’s like to have power rationing on a daily long term basis?

How do you think it would affect your travel, and how would you cope?

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21 Great responses to Travel & Life with no Electricity, coming soon to a country near you!

  1. Abby says:

    Wow. This is wild! In Costa Rica, we have announced black-outs. The classic beat-ups trucks with loud speakers tied on drive through the neighborhoods announcing that the next day, no power. Much of this, but not all, has to do with the hydra-power not getting enough rain. Up in the hills (where, ironically, the nicer mansions are located) often face unannounced outages. Interesting about the road paving/election tie-in. We’re just starting to pave our roads, but I don’t think the local politicos have thought of using that as campaigning material!

    • -Abby- Wow, there’s a new one Costa Rica. I would not have put that on my list of countries with potential problems. But then again as a I stated in the article, it’s spreading. Interesting to note it’s done by loud speaker and not newspaper or internet news. The news in the Philippines is internet/newspaper (when they remember). But the way they write it is like out of some military school. Not easy to follow, and they keep changing.

      -Ray B.- Hi Ray, and welcome. You seem to be in a lucky position up there. I think most of the Philippine’s electricity is generated by hydro. Someone stated 60% is nationally is generated in Mindanao and then sent around the country. Make’s it that little but more ironic. Already been up north :) If I return it’ll be to see Vigas way up north. P.S. I removed your phone number from your comment. Just in case. But saved it to my phone in case I am up there anytime :)

      -Kyle- It certainly does sound similar. In fact all power outrages around the world seem to have common ground. Politics & money, and these days the two are synonymous. I believe there are certain things in the world we have evolved to have as a requirement for future development. Electricity is one of them. Denying it is not good in my book.

      -Francoise- Thank you! And, again interesting to put another country onto the list – Lebanon. It’s also interesting to note about the people taping into the power lines as one of the possible causes. This is widely blamed for being one of the causes in West Africa too. Sadly even without electricity people still get crazy bills that bear no resemblance to consumption. Hence they tap in, as playing fair gets them nowhere. Likewise in Nepal. You bill is the same for one month of 24 hours electricity a day compared to one month of only 12 hours per day. But still, the people remain placid.

      -jessiev- Yes scary for businesses. Scary for everyone. Medical services suffer terribly due to this, and I would not want to be in a hospital here during a power outage.

      -Will- Thanks for your contribution. Ecuador is added to this growing list. It seems South America is fairly high on electricity outages. Short term generator power is fine, but over the long term the effects are quite devastating. The environment suffers, and finances suffer as one needs to pay out more. And example here, is the increase in food costs due to the increase in fuel consumption to keep it in storage / refrigeration.

  2. Ray B. says:

    Hi. Thanks for the great articals. I,m not world traveler myself but, rather an American expat who has spent the last 2 years living in Angeles City Philippines. About the electricity problems in Mindanao it’s as you said because of drougth. Here in Pampanga we have drougth also but, not the magnitude of effect on power. Unfortunately I don’t know for sure how our power is generatedbut, since we have very few brownouts I suspect it is not by water. Any way my point is Don’t give up on PI yet. Come to AC and enjoy pleanty of electricity. Also there many other places on the beautiful island of Luzon to visit and I think most have reliable power. I won’t get into the politics of this but, I suspect it is our close proximity to the NCR. Those people are not going without power and so I think we benefit also. RAY P.S. my cell is 0928-279-3602 if you have any specific questions about AC

  3. Kyle says:

    This sounds more like a case of energy companies manipulating the electricity grid for their own gain, whether it be for elections or financial reasons. In fact this sounds eerily similar to what happened in California in 2000-2001: blackouts were created to increase the cost of electricity.

  4. Francoise says:

    Great piece Dave!

    I’ve experienced power outages in a few places. The only planned outages I lived through were in Lebanon. Beirut has daily (usually 4-5 hours) planned outages that cycle through neighbourhoods. Even posh areas aren’t exempt. Some buildings & businesses have generators, many don’t.

    The reasons for these outages are complex but it’s mostly political/economic. Discussing with locals, the story is that most of South Beirut taps into the grid and does not pay their bill (as a form of protest?). Lack of money means limited fuel supplies for electricity and there seems to be little political will to deal with the issue.

  5. jessiev says:

    that is crazy. i never would have thought of this – but it makes sense. scary, for businesses who could lose everything due to this.

  6. Will says:

    I experienced this in Ecuador. Same story, reservoirs were drying up due to lack of rainfall. A few local businesses used gas powered generators (internet cafes and phone places). It really wasn’t much of a hassle. I met an expat in Guayaquil who rented a house near the airport because that part of the grid never got shut off.

  7. agentcikay says:

    my gosh! i would never in a million years have guessed that even the search for electricity might end up being a travel journey/adventure. a real eye opener. thanks for sharing:)

  8. Dee says:

    I just moved to Khemisset, Morocco from western Michigan, USA. I’m living here with my fiancé and family. We have blackouts on Sundays for about 6 hours. They start it after morning prayers and it lasts until after midday prayer. Coming from the spoiled USA this is something to become accustomed too. Will it soil my happiness? No. Is it inconvenient? Yes.

    I do agree that a part of it can be political but there is no election going on here right now that I know of. It’s a Kingdom. The only elections are for the bicameral Parliament. I do see that the poorer neighborhoods (I live in one) are the ones that are blacked out the most and for the longest times. I hear no generators kicking in. I hear people talking or praying or just going about their days. There is a sadness and even an embarrassed apology to me that this happens. As if they have a hand in the miss-allocation of resources. I find it to be a peaceful respite from the trappings of ‘modernity’.

    I just roll with it and let it be a part of my experience. I know it’s annoying to some and the only way I have to keep in touch with family is via the internet. Luckily we have warning and some scheduling to the outages. We’ll see if this continues.

    Personally I agree that it’s going to get worse and more wide-spread. The poorer nations have had poor planning or are recovering from a destroyed or non-existent infrastructure. With the economy so tenuous right now I don’t see that being fixed soon. We all have to become one world community, not sectors or separated. Helping each other rather than me, my, mine it has to become we, us, ours. We have only one earth supplying resources. It is sad to me that 25% of the world’s population uses over 80% of the resources. That’s needs to balance out. I don’t mean a one world government. I mean all have to work together keeping their sovereignty but respecting we have one source for resources and sharing them appropriately AND with intelligence.

    I’m sad that this might hinder your posting of your journal. I hope you find a solution soon. Have you found your ‘home’ there in the Philippines? Other than the outages you seem to be comfortable there.

    • -Dee- It’s very interesting to hear about Morocco. I too have spent some time there, and really enjoyed it. At that time there were no power outages. It saddens me to learn that there now is. And, I wonder why. Though Morocco’s economy always seemed to be in a state of flux, it seemed certain to be on a positive road.

      Just goes to show this is spreading. And as many people have mentioned, it is yet again the poorer classes that are suffering. Which is a shame, as perhaps they are the ones that need it most.

      Just last night I met with some people who had some inside information on the situation here. Not sure yet about publishing it, as it’s hearsay. Then again there will never be any proof on this subject due to it’s nature anyway. Sufficed to say, it’s a web of many different events that have relegated only “certain” regions to be blacked out.

      Yes it is sad about the lack of balance in energy consumption in the world today. I have to say my views are a little different here. While I fully support the need to conserve power, the environment and all consumable things. I also believe that things like Electricity and nowadays Internet services should be a right. It’s apart of society’s development. If we can’t get this right, then we are in more trouble than we think. However considering we can’t even supply healthcare, water or food to everyone, then it says a lot already.

      Yes, unfortunately the current situation is hampering my journal here. I don’t have the ability at the moment to upload many photographs. Nor have access to respond quickly to people. If I have electricity, then either the internet company is down, or the mobile company is down. And, vice versa. I have however, scheduled some articles and upcoming interviews which were done last month.

      The Philippines is comfortable to a point. In a practical sense, I am struggling. Will I stay here much longer … I am in doubt.

      Thanks for your insightful comment!

      -Nomadic Chick- It’s very hard to appreciate power outages unless you live with them everyday. Especially unscheduled ones. Life stops and starts with the light. In many places travelers go, there’s a generator. But in more out of the way places, their is none. For many travelers short interruptions are only an inconvenience, they can always move on. So yes, living with it is quite different, to traveling with it.

      I hope you get to travel with electricity! :)

      -bernie- Hi Bernie,

      Yep, I couldn’t resist slipping that in. And, I am seriously thinking of writing an article about the increasing waistline of the Pinoy! Fast food nation part II.

      If I mention I walked from “here” to “there” I get looks of shock and madness. Most of the exercise in The Philippines seems to take place walking inside the mall from shop to shop. Sadly, the subject is largely ignored here. Moreover, I think in 20 years there will be serious problems in The Philippines with weight related problems!

      Hope you get to come back, keep working on it!

      Note: From the comments here, and from my own experience, here is a list of countries with regular power interruptions:

      Parts of India
      The Philippines
      Costa Rica
      Sierra Leone

      Know of another? Just leave a comment and I’ll add it here

  9. I haven’t lived through one in a far flung land, but have for long periods of time in Vancouver. We had some severe wind storms one year, and another year my apt was out for 12+ hours. Not super long, but I felt it. Great post, Dave.

  10. bernie says:

    hi dave! enjoyed what you said about filipinos having to take more exercise! lol. i know when i was there no one liked to walk anywhere! lovely people they are ! they just dont want to walk anywhere! i guess ray.b must like it over there! must admit i would love to go back and stay longer! all the best. bernie

  11. Erica says:

    I couldn’t imagine. I would assume that you now have to be on a set schedule in regards to your blogging capabilities?

    • -Erica- I thought so too. There’s a schedule, but it’s still out by 1 or 2 hours either side. Likewise it’s difficult as it’s done in regions, so the internet providers maybe be blacked out in one region, and meanwhile you have electricity. Not much good. It’s started to rain again, so let’s see if that makes a difference! Thanks for the comment!

  12. What a challenge… I love your adventures.

  13. Costa Rica says:

    I grew up with black outs in the bay area, lived through 6 days with out power in Los Angeles, and have come to realize that this is going to be a part of life in any country.

  14. Rob says:

    My friends in Freetown Sierra Leone have been without electricity in their neighborhood for 3 months now. They say the outage is affecting a very big area.

  15. takami says:

    In Japan,not so much people know black-out always happens in developping country.
    On the contrary,generators are sended to Japan now.
    unfair is always lying.