Sal's confusing reasons for being on the road
In Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, there are many details about our main character, Sal Paradise, that are made abundantly clear throughout the story. The first of these traits is his impulsivity and immaturity, most likely meant to exaggerate his young age. There are many points in the book where Sal acts completely idiotically, not thinking about the future at all; wasting a dollar on a joint, spending all his money on a bus halfway to his destination and saying he’ll “figure it out when he gets there”, meeting a woman he knows is married with a son and becoming romantically involved with her no sooner than five minutes after meeting her. There are many times where Sal is totally excited about the current leg of his journey, and a few pages later, he is cursing life and can’t wait to leave. However, these all could be tactics to convince the reader of Sal’s character as an innocent young man just trying to find some meaning in life.
However, is this really Sal’s mission in traveling? We don’t know for sure, but I have a few ideas. First being that he was just bored, and is traveling recreationally. He is a writer (like almost all of our traveling characters have been) and is kind of sick of the daily grind of New York life, and needs to get away. He does what everyone tries to do—get as far away as possible (within reach), which for him means hitchhiking to the other side of the country. There doesn’t seem to be much depth to his reason to traveling if you only look at it at this level.
More depth can be found if you look deeper into his actions. Perhaps Sal is a diversionary tourist, who feels deeply dissatisfied with his life in New York, and because of his recent breakup, is just looking for things to distract him. This would make sense and explain some of his impulsive actions: he is just trying to do anything he can to escape, and not feel the pain he felt when his wife left him.
A slightly less optimistic view of Sal is that he is just following the bandwagon. There is a part where he even says that the reason he left was because its what everyone was doing, so he figured it was what he should do as well. This type of tourist was left off of Cohen’s list of tourists, and for good reason. This is the worst type of tourist, and the worst type of person—a follower. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are for leaving, as long as they are your reasons.
A final explanation for why Sal travels is that he isn't "going to get somewhere", he is "just going". This explanation fits perfectly with his impulsivity and immaturity, but is a little shallow: usually people say they're going "just to go", but in reality there is more behind it.
Perhaps the only right explanation is that Sal is a mix of types. There is no one word that can describe him or why he travels, and I also think we aren’t supposed to fully understand the reasons for his traveling, possibly until the end of the book, possibly never. But reading the book will give us a better idea on why Sal truly decided to hit the road.