Helpful Tips for Planning Your Solar Eclipse Trip

People are seen watching the annular solar eclipse with sunglasses at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in October 2023. Credit – Carlos Tischler-Getty Images

TThe following are some natural phenomena that may evoke the same feeling of a solar eclipse. Around the world, myths and legends have developed to explain the rare event, which occurs when the moon’s shadow blocks the light from the sun, causing a temporary period of darkness in the middle of the day. In ancient China, eclipses were said to indicate that the sun was being devoured by a dragon, and in South America, subjects of the Inca Empire believed that it represented the wrath of the sun god on earth.

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

What you should consider before going on a solar eclipse tour

Travel to the path of wholeness

Most places in 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 that might be enough, but to experience what a solar eclipse feels like, you should travel to the path of totality, where the sun is covered 100%. “A partial eclipse is not an eclipse. It doesn’t really come close. You have to be in the path of totality to experience it,” Paul Bryans, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells TIME.

To check if a location is in line with the total, you can use this map. Areas within the full line are shaded in the darkest shade of red.

Read more: How Cities Around the US Are Celebrating the Eclipse

Weather conditions

Another thing to consider when considering where to travel for a solar eclipse is the overall weather conditions in different locations. You may not get the full experience if it’s cloudy outside. When the sun and moon are blocked by clouds, 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. Regarding the eclipse in 2024, many of the places with the highest chance of sunny weather are in Mexico. If you prefer to stay in the United States for the duration of the eclipse, many places in Texas are expected to have good weather. As a general rule for the 2024 eclipse, the further south along the eclipse line you go, the better your chance of good weather. “When you get to the northern parts, you have a much higher chance of being disappointed,” Brian McGee, founder of Astro Trails, a company that leads solar eclipse tours, tells TIME.

Book accommodation and tickets in advance

Each expert spoke to TIME with a warning about how quickly accommodations and travel tickets sell out in places where the eclipse will occur. You can expect the prices of Airbnbs and hotels to increase significantly for dates close to or during the eclipse. Behavior can also go much further than usual. Traffic jams caused by tourists pouring into the cities to catch the solar eclipse could make your travel time much 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 about nine hours after the eclipse ended.

Whatever you do, make sure you arrive at your destination several hours before the eclipse begins. “It’s going to be crazy the day of the eclipse. So my advice to people is if they are going to travel, by car or plane, 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 Respond 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 look at the sun to watch as the moon slowly covers more and more of it. However, if you want to see this partial eclipse period, it is essential to use proper eye protection. “An eclipse doesn’t make it more dangerous to look at the sun, but it makes people want to look at the sun,” says Gianforte.

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

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During fullness, wear eye protection

A common misconception about solar eclipses is that you have to keep your sunglasses on at all times. However, if you are in the path of totality and the sun is 100% covered by the moon, you can view the eclipse directly without eye protection. The eclipse veterans TIME spoke to strongly recommend removing sun protection from your eyes and camera equipment during the entire period to truly take in the experience. “When it’s total you should remove your glasses completely and look directly at the sun,” says Bryans. “If you don’t do that you 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. Be sure to check the exact timing of totality where you are viewing the eclipse, and immediately resume using solar filters just before the end of the totality period.

Read more: Here are all the Different Types of Eclipses

Look at your surroundings

One of the most interesting things to notice during an eclipse is not only the eclipse itself, but also how the environment around you changes. During the entire period, you will be able to feel the temperature drop by about 10°F. Animals such as birds, cats and dogs may act differently when dealing with the confusion of the sun suddenly disappearing in the middle of the day. You may be able to see some brighter stars and planets even when you look at the sky when the sun is covered up.

What to consider after your solar eclipse trip

Journal about your experience

After the eclipse, you may want to organize your thoughts and feelings to help you remember the experience and take in the beauty of what you just saw. Sometimes people can be overwhelmed by emotions when they see an eclipse, and journaling can be a good way to process those emotions. “It’s one of the most emotionally-charged natural events you’ll ever see,” says Gianforte. “It’s like if you go to the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest … it’s hard to explain. 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 can expect traffic congestion on the way there, you should expect similar delays on the way back. It’s a good idea to spend an extra day as it can help you avoid traffic jams on the roads.

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