Self-actualization: self-fulfillment; “to become everything that one is capable of becoming” (http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds_2.htm)
In On the Road, characters use travel as a means to explore not only the world, but themselves as well. The principle of “the grass being greener on the other side” definitely applies to many of the people in this story, as they hope that the locations they are travelling to will be infinitely better than wherever they are. When Sal walks up disoriented in his Des Moines hotel room, he thinks:
“I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.” (15).
Sal believes that travelling West is where his future is. He hopes that through his journey, he will find purpose and happiness. This sense of distant purpose is what guides him to continue travelling, rather than settling down in one place. He initially leaves New York because he believes that the West will be better, but people in the West feel that the East is actually better. A girl in Wyoming tells Sal:
“’There ain’t no flowers [on the prairie]…’I want to go to New York. I’m sick and tired of this. Ain’t no place to go but Cheyenne and ain’t nothin in Cheyenne.’”(33).
Essentially, Sal believes he will be content in Colorado, but people there (or, in this instance, Wyoming) face the same discontentment that he does. With Terry, Sal notes the concept of future happiness. He constantly tells her “tomorrow” in Spanish as a way of promising that they will be happy in the future. “It was always mañana…a lovely word and one that probably means heaven.” (94). Sal believes that the future holds “heaven”, or rather, contentment, and that he can reach the future by traveling to it.
Travel is, for Sal and Dean especially, a way to ensure that they are getting the most out of life that they can. Sal interprets his dream about the mysterious figure as representative of death inevitably catching up to them. Dean then tells Sal that he will have nothing to do with death (124). Travelling is a means that both men use to avoid growing up. They wish to seize every day and not only make the most of what they have, but take more from life than they’ve been given. However, travel does not actually allow them to remain unbeatable. Dean eventually goes mad, leaving Camille and abusing Marylou. Afterward, he suggests to Sal that they walk to New York and Sal offers the idea that they go to Italy afterward (189). In this case, travel becomes a way for the men to escape. Rather than reconciling with Camille or seeking forgiveness from Marylou, Dean wants to travel back East and escape the many issues that plague him in California. By escaping his issues, he feels that he can do whatever he wants in a different city/with different people.