Road Warrior

Leisure travel rising among road trippers and jetsetters

From Bermuda and the Bahamas to Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles, travelers are making more time for vacations in 2014, but burned by the recession, they remain cautious about spending, according to recent surveys and interviews with travel professionals.

The uptick in leisure travel coincides with an increase in business travel, hotel construction and airline travel.

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Globally, international tourism was up 5 percent in 2013, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. UNWTO predicts an increase of an additional 4 to 4.5 percent in 2014 with the strongest interest in Asia, the Pacific and Africa. (Globally, the Chinese have been the biggest outbound market since 2012, with an estimated expenditure of $102 billion last year, according to the same report.)

An American Express Spending & Saving Tracker report released earlier this year confirmed an increasing number of Americans are planning more leisure travel in 2014 than 2013. And while more people overall plan to travel, they will continue to watch their purse strings as only 47 percent said they actually plan to spend more while on vacation than they did in 2013, according to the American Express report.

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The "all American road trip" is also on the rise, according to the survey, which found 47 percent of vacationers plan to drive to their destination, up from 43 percent in 2013.

Ashley Storrs, a psychiatrist who lives in Edgewater N.J., said she has been traveling a lot more in recent years—to destinations such as Hawaii, Italy, Brussels and Spain—but with a focus on getting the most value for money spent.

Now she's planning a September honeymoon with her fiance, Kelvin Crumby, who works as a tax manager. They said they like to research their trips, look for deals and find the best they can get within their budget.

Airlines expecting passenger spike
Airlines expecting passenger spike

"We're both very detail oriented," Storrs said. They save, plan, research and make use of sites such as TripAdvisor and Groupon, and when heading to Europe focus on reasonable quality such as Marriott's AC Hotels brand.

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The luxury end of leisure travel is seeing more action as well.

"2013 was our biggest year since 2008," said Andrew Collins, the president of Sentient Jet, a private jet company that allows travelers to book a block of hours on a jet, starting at $125,000 for about 25 hours of time. "In 2013 we saw a really big uptick."

In addition to the overall uptick in business from its regular clients, Sentient is also seeing growth from new customers, which is in part new private jet fliers as well as gains in market share. Overall, there are about 4,000 active Jet Card users.

While Sentient doesn't ask passengers the nature of their trips, in general they assume travel on Friday through Sunday are leisure trips. Travel on those days was up 7 percent for 2013 over 2012.

The rise was slightly higher, 9 percent, when comparing the final two quarters of the year, he said. Frequent destinations for those trips have been Nantucket, Mass., Aspen, Colo., and Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean. Overall, he estimates that the private jets are used 40 percent of the time for leisure rather than business travel.

"Almost counterintuitively, high-end luxury, and not just in travel, grew during the recession," Sebastian Tomich, vice president of advertising at The New York Times said during an interview at The New York Times Travel Show. Overall, leisure spending declined during recession but is returning right now, he said.

This year's travel show attracted exhibitors from a record 150 countries. Exotic adventure travel, family trips, bespoke travel and social sharing are all big themes for this year, said Michael Carroll, the director of advertising for travel, spirits and consumer packaged goods sectors at The New York Times.

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Social media especially has created a new kind of friendly competition when it comes to posting the coolest vacation pictures."Keeping up with the Joneses through social sharing" is another travel trend, Carroll said.

—By CNBC's Amy Langfield. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyLangfield.

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