Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model (ELM) is composed of four stages which he says are the essence of learning. They can begin with any of the following elements, but usually starts with the first and proceed in order. These elements are:
1. concrete experience - learners must involve themselves fully, openly and without bias in new experiences.
2. reflective observation of the experience from many perspectives.
3. create abstract concepts based upon the reflection into logical sound theories.
4. active testing and experimentation of the new concepts in making decisions and solving problems.
Since my retirement from regular employment began at the start of 2021, I have been traveling (mostly via motorcycle) almost continuously. Specific trips include:
- 2021 Jan: Colombia
- 2021 Feb: Baja Mexico
- 2021 Mar: Arizona
- 2021 Apr: Oregon
- 2021 Jun-Jul: New England
- 2021 Aug: Utah and Colorado
- 2021 Nov-Dec: Baja Mexico
- 2022 Apr-Jul: US-Canada perimeter
- 2022 Sep-Dec: New Mexico, Mexico (mainland), La Paz BCS
Now at the end of 2022, with two full years in the books, it is a good time to look back on these past two years with some reflection and summarize what's been learned.
Considering Kolb's points one at a time;
First, certainly travel via a motorcycle has presented me with many "concrete experiences". I visited new (to me) places and met new people every day throughout these travels. Was I "open and without bias"? Open yes, for sure. For me being open to the experience has always been an important part of travel. I like to meet new (particularly culturally different) people.
But, "without bias", I'm not so sure. We all bring bias to each situation. We bring a distillation of life experiences that enables us to quickly pre-judge people based on the past. It seems hard not to. Likely this is a survival skill developed over many thousands of years. A rapid ability to size up strangers quickly probably served our hunter/gatherer ancestors. While you can't stop bias, I believe it is key to be aware that bias from pre-judgement is always with us. Be aware and make sure to test what you conclude to confirm it is not overly influenced by bias. Awareness, not absence, has been my guiding principle when it come to bias or pre-judgement.
Second, "reflective observation". One advantage to motorcycle travel is the large amount of alone quiet time. I'm just in my head with my thoughts as I ride along during the day. Without specific effort, a considerable amount of reflective time is available. I always use it.
Third, create "abstract concepts" from the reflection. Specific examples need to be abstracted to create future guidance. Conclusions can inform the creation of models to be used in the future. I've attempted to list the most important of these below.
Finally, fourth, test and experiment with the new concepts to make decisions. Coming up as I continue to travel. I intend to remember these items and test them, likely during travels in the near future.
So, what did I learn, conclude or theorize? These are in no special order and of very uneven levels of importance.
- Cities are a pain for motorcycle travelers. It is difficult to get a hotel with secure, protective, reasonably priced motorcycle parking. And, it should be walkable to desirable destinations. I found that a better solution can be a hotel away from the city center but with planned access to transport. Sometimes that was a bus or rail. Other times we used hired cars (e.g., taxis or Uber).
- Always interact with people that approach you until the conversation comes to a natural end. Don't rush it. Don't cut it short because of the distance remaining for the day or some other "future" driven imperative. It is almost never the case that you don't have the time. And, it is often surprising—sometimes downright shocking—what you get from the conversation. This is a part of "being in the moment" or living for now rather than the past or future.
- Problems are what make the trip. They are the best stories and most memorable moments. Challenge, and overcoming it, is part of what gives life meaning.
- Drink water. Every time. Every stop.
- If you don't speak the language, don't worry. Don't be shy. Everyone wants to be helpful. You came to visit them. That communicates how important you think they are. Use the words you have. Learn a few in advance. Use body language. Point at pictures. Use Google Translate on your phone. From my experience, you can always get your point across.
- Stop at more overlooks. They were built for a reason. Often they show the best possible view of a geological feature.
- Stay extra days in interesting places. We choose locations to stay two or three days. Usually every third day. Often these were near larger cities or major attractions like museums, parks, historic sites or unique geography. Not only do these extra days provide time to explore but also provide the change of pace and rest needed to maintain a many month long trip.
- Travel changes you, if you let it. Nearly always for the better. Something about the experience is fundamental to humanity. Seeing the differences in others also reinforces how much the same we all are as well. Every human wants the same things—some degree of comfort in daily life, success for their children, connection with others and their community. Experiencing this helps diminish any sense of "them" and "us". The "other" is no different than we are and often has something to teach us.
- Listen to your partner. They are right ... a lot. And, doing so saves so much time dealing with an upset other person later.
So those are my thoughts from almost two years of continuous motorcycle travel. It will continue and hopefully I'll learn more.