Helpful tips for planning your solar eclipse trip

At the National Autonomous University of Mexico, people watch the annular solar eclipse with solar filter glasses in October 2023. Credit – Carlos Tischler – Getty Images

TFew natural phenomena can evoke the same emotion of a solar eclipse. Myths and legends around the world have developed to explain this rare event, which occurs when the moon’s shadow blocks the sun’s light, creating 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, the subjects of the Inca Empire believed this signaled the sun god’s wrath on the world.

On April 8, 2024, people in Canada, the US and Mexico will have the chance to see a total solar eclipse with their own eyes. TIME spoke to experienced solar eclipse travelers for tips so anyone planning a solar eclipse trip can get the most out of the experience.

What to consider before embarking on a solar eclipse trip

Journey to the path of totality

At most places along the eclipse path, only a partial solar eclipse can occur, where the sun is not completely covered by the moon. Many people assume this is enough, but to truly experience what a solar eclipse feels like, you need to journey into the path of totality, where the sun is 100% covered. “A partial solar eclipse is not a solar eclipse. It’s really not close. You have to walk the path of totality to really experience it,” Paul Bryans, project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, tells TIME.

To check whether 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 US Cities Celebrate the Solar 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 totality line. If it’s cloudy outside, you might not get the full experience. When there are clouds blocking the sun and moon, the effects of the eclipse are much less dramatic.

One way to avoid this problem is to choose a place along the totality line with a high chance of sunny weather. For the 2024 solar eclipse, many of the places with the highest expected chances of sunny weather are in Mexico. If you prefer to stay in the US during the eclipse, good weather conditions are also expected in many places in Texas. As a general rule for the 2024 eclipse, the further south along the eclipse line, the greater the chance of good weather. “If you go to the northern reaches, you’re much more likely to be disappointed,” Brian McGee, founder of Astro Trails, a company that organizes solar eclipse tours, tells TIME.

Book accommodations and tickets in advance

Every expert TIME spoke to warned about how quickly accommodations and travel tickets are selling out in places where the eclipse will occur. You can expect Airbnb and hotel prices to increase dramatically for dates close to or during the eclipse. Transport may also take much longer than normal. Traffic congestion caused by tourists pouring into cities to catch the eclipse can add significantly to your travel time, so you should plan accordingly. During the 2017 solar eclipse, large traffic jams were recorded in Wyoming and Kentucky. It wasn’t until about nine hours after the eclipse ended that the streets returned to normal.

Whatever you do, make sure you arrive at your destination several hours before the start of the eclipse. “It’s going to be crazy on 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 wait until Monday, April 8,” John Gianforte, director of the University of New Hampshire Observatory, tells TIME.

read more: How animals and nature react to a solar eclipse

What to pay attention to during your solar eclipse journey

Protect your eyes

During the run-up to the solar eclipse, many people like to observe the sun to see how the moon slowly covers more and more of it. However, if you want to experience this period of partial solar eclipse, it is crucial that you use the correct eye protection. “The fact that a solar eclipse is happening doesn’t make it more dangerous to look at the sun, but it does make people want to look at the sun,” Gianforte says.

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

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Remove eye protection during totality

A common misconception about solar eclipses is that you should always keep your sun protective glasses on. 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 to strongly recommended removing sun protection from both your eyes and your camera equipment during the period of totality to really take in the experience. “Once there is totality, you should absolutely take off your glasses and look directly at the sun,” says Bryans. “If you don’t, 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 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 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 a solar eclipse is not only the eclipse itself, but also the way the environment around you changes. During the totality period, you can feel the temperature drop by about 10°F. Animals such as birds, cats and dogs may behave differently as they struggle 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 if you look up at the sky when the sun is covered.

What to look for after your solar eclipse trip

Keep a diary of your experiences

After the solar eclipse, you may want to journal about your thoughts and feelings so that you can remember the experience and soak up the beauty of what you just saw. Seeing a solar eclipse can sometimes make people feel overwhelmed with emotions, and journaling can be a good way to process those feelings. “It’s one of the most emotion-inducing natural events you can see,” says Gianforte. “It’s like going to the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest… it’s just hard to explain. Everyone should experience a total solar eclipse at least once in their lives.”

If possible, wait until the next day before traveling back

Just as you might expect traffic jams on the way there, you can also expect similar delays on the way back. It’s a good idea to stay an extra day as this can help you avoid traffic jams.

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