The thought of one more road trip before winter is inspiring more New England residents to travel during the busy Labor Day holiday weekend.

AAA said on Friday that about 1.6 million New England residents, or about 11.3 percent of the population, will travel 50 miles or more from home during the weekend. That represents a 3 percent increase over last year, slightly ahead of the national forecast.

AAA Southern New England says the increase appears to reflect the nation’s continued slow and steady economic recovery.

A fantastic weather forecast for the weekend with plenty of sunshine likely will encourage more people to visit many great destinations and attractions close at hand, including Rhode Island’s marine and historic attractions, New Hampshire’s scenic beauty, Vermont’s natural charm, Maine’s costal and wilderness sites, Connecticut’s historic, artistic and seaside lures and Massachusetts’ historic and natural attractions, said Mary Maguire, a director for AAA Southern New England.

“All of this can be accomplished with a tank of gas and much less,” Maguire said. “Even though gas prices are historically high for labor day weekend, a car trip is still affordable given the proximity of popular destination here in New England.”

Recent economic data show the region has seen modest labor market improvements, encouraging slightly more travel this Labor Day weekend, she said.

Travelers began trekking out of their homes as early as Thursday in an effort to beat the holiday travel crowd.

Herb Manning, of Wellesley, just southeast of Boston, avoided the crowd by traveling early with his family to see his parents and in-laws.

“We are traveling to North Carolina before school starts — for the last weekend” break of the 2012 summer, Manning said.

The total number of Labor Day weekend travelers is expected to reach a new post-recession high of 33 million across the country, with 85 percent of them going by car, Maguire said.

Among them is Frank Shirley, of Cambridge, just east of Boston. He’s traveling to southern New Hampshire for the holiday.

“We actually try to avoid long-distance travel on Labor Day just because the traffic is so bad,” Shirley said. “So our events will be local, probably no further than 50 miles away from home.”

Dan Hicks, who works at Massachusetts General Hospital, will not have that luxury of limiting his travel. He planned to brave the traffic and head to northwestern Connecticut on Friday to join his family for the weekend.

“I’ll give up four or five hours on Friday just to get home for the weekend, definitely,” Hicks said at a gas station.