Helpful Tips for Planning Your Solar Eclipse Trip

There are few natural phenomena that can evoke the same emotion of a solar eclipse. Around the world, myths and legends have developed to explain the rare event, which happens when the shadow of the moon blocks the light from the sun, causing a period of temporary darkness in the middle of the day. In ancient China, eclipses were said to signal that the sun was being devoured by a dragon, while in South America, subjects of the Inca Empire believed it signaled the sun god’s anger at the world.

On April 8, 2024, those in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico will have the opportunity to view a total solar eclipse for themselves. TIME spoke to veteran solar eclipse travelers for tips, so that anyone planning a solar eclipse trip can get the most out of the experience.

What to consider before you embark on a solar eclipse trip 

Travel to the path of totality

Most places on the eclipse path will only be able to experience a partial solar eclipse, where the sun is not completely covered by the moon. Many people assume that might be enough, but to really experience what a solar eclipse feels like, you should travel to the path of totality, where the sun is 100% covered. “A partial eclipse is not an eclipse. It really does not come close. You need to be in the path of totality to really experience it,” Paul Bryans, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells TIME.

To check if a location is in the line of totality, you can use this map. Places within the line of totality are shaded in the darkest shade of red.

Read More: How Cities Around the U.S. Are Celebrating the Eclipse

Weather conditions

Another thing to think about when considering where to travel for a solar eclipse is the weather conditions in different places along the line of totality. You might not get the full experience if it is cloudy outside. When there are clouds blocking the sun and the moon, the eclipse effects are much less dramatic. 

One way to avoid this problem is to choose a place along the line of totality with a high chance of sunny weather. For the eclipse in 2024, many of the places with the highest expected chances of sunny weather are in Mexico. If you would rather stay in the U.S. for the duration of the eclipse, many places in Texas are also expected to have good weather conditions. As a general rule for the 2024 eclipse, the further south along the eclipse line you go, the better your chances of good weather. “When you get to the northern parts, you have a much higher possibility of being disappointed,” Brian McGee, founder of Astro Trails, a company that leads solar eclipse tours, tells TIME.

Book accommodations and tickets in advance

Every expert TIME spoke with warned about how quickly accommodations and travel tickets sell out in places where the eclipse will happen. You can expect Airbnbs and hotel prices to go up dramatically for dates close to or during the eclipse. Transportation may also take way longer than usual. Traffic jams caused by tourists flocking into cities to catch the solar eclipse might make your travel time significantly longer so you should plan accordingly. During the 2017 solar eclipse, major traffic jams were recorded in Wyoming and Kentucky. The streets did not return to normal until approximately nine hours after the eclipse ended.

Whatever you do, make sure to arrive at your destination several hours before the eclipse starts. “It’s going to be crazy on the day of the eclipse. So my advice to people is if they’re going to travel, either by car or by airplane, do it early. Don’t leave it until Monday, April 8,” John Gianforte, director of the observatory at the University of New Hampshire, tells TIME.

Read More: How Animals and Nature React to an Eclipse

What to consider during your solar eclipse trip

Protect your eyes

During the build up towards the solar eclipse, many people like to observe the sun to watch as the moon slowly covers more and more of it. However, if you want to view this period of partial eclipse, it is critical to use proper eye protection. “The fact that there is an eclipse doesn’t make it any more dangerous to look at the sun, but it makes people want to look at the sun,” says Gianforte. 

Regular sunglasses do not provide enough protection for observing the eclipse, but the American Astronomical Society has a list of eclipse eye protection suppliers that meet the international safety standards. If you already wear eyeglasses, make sure the solar filter is placed on the outside of your glasses. Similarly, if you are viewing the partial eclipse through a camera, you need to make sure there is a certified solar filter on top of your camera lens. These filters are designed to protect your camera and your eyes from the dangerous portions of the sun’s radiation. Whatever lens you view the eclipse through, “the closest thing to the sun has to be the filter,” says Gianforte.

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During totality, remove eye protection

A common misconception about solar eclipses is that you must keep your solar protection glasses on at all times. However, if you are in the path of totality and the sun is 100% covered by the moon, you can look directly at the eclipse without eye protection. The eclipse veterans TIME spoke with strongly recommended removing solar protection from both your eyes and camera equipment during the period of totality to truly take in the experience. “Once there’s totality then you should absolutely take your glasses off and look directly at the sun,” says Bryans. “If you don’t do that you’ll miss a lot of the most interesting parts of it.” 

However, it is important to remember that for the 2024 eclipse, the period of totality will last for a maximum of four and a half minutes according to NASA. Make sure to check the exact timing of totality in the place where you are viewing the eclipse from, and immediately resume using solar filters right before the period of totality ends.

Read More: These Are All the Different Types of Eclipses

Observe your surroundings

One of the most fascinating things to observe during an eclipse is not just the eclipse itself, but also the way the environment around you changes. During the period of totality, you’ll be able to feel the temperature drop by about 10°F. Animals such as birds, cats, and dogs, may start to act differently as they grapple with the confusion of the sun suddenly disappearing in the middle of the day. You may even be able to see some brighter stars and planets when you look at the sky once the sun is covered up. 

What to consider after your solar eclipse trip

Journal about your experience

After the eclipse, you may want to journal about your thoughts and feelings to help remember the experience and take in the beauty of what you just witnessed. Seeing an eclipse can sometimes cause people to feel overwhelmed with emotion, and journaling can be a good way to process those feelings. “It’s one of the most emotion-evoking natural events that you can see,” says Gianforte. “It’s like if you go to the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest… it’s just hard to explain it. Everyone should, at least once in their life, see a total solar eclipse.”

Wait until the next day to travel back, if possible

Just as you may anticipate traffic jams on the way there, you should also expect similar delays on the way back. It’s a good idea to hang around an extra day since it could help you avoid congestion on the roads. 

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