Physics, Earth & Space Icon Physics, Earth & Space

To Go, or Not to Go (See the Eclipse)? That Is the Question


Maybe you and your family been reading about the eclipse, and it sounds interesting. But family road trips aren’t exactly a walk in the park, and you’ve got a feeling this will be no ordinary road trip.

First, the hard facts. Do take note that about 12 million Americans live in the path of the umbra. And another 200 million or so are within a day’s drive. predicts that between 1.8 and 7.4 million who live outside of the umbra will be traveling to the path of totality, and due to the projected influx, states are treating this like a natural disaster.

Partial Eclipse?

Well, then, what about a compromise: Stay out of the path and settle for a partial eclipse. Here in Seattle, for example, we’ll see 93 percent of the sun covered. As you move further out from the path of totality, how precipitously does the experience depreciate? Unfortunately, it’s binary. You go from seeing the corona and stars in the path of totality to a dimmer sky, no stars, no corona. The sky will look a little darker, but if you didn’t know an eclipse was going on, you might just think it was a cloudy day. If you’re going to go somewhere to see the eclipse better, go all the way!


First, housing. Of course, hotels in the umbra are booked or offering a few rooms at hundreds to thousands of dollars per night. But even if you need a hotel because it’s too far a drive to do it all in one day, the hotel itself doesn’t have to be in the eclipse pathway. It could be two hours from the perfect eclipse viewing spot (but still much closer than driving all the way from or back home). So that’s one possible strategy.

Airbnb may have options opening up as people in the path of the total eclipse realize they are sitting on a marketable rental for a single day.

Many people will feel they only need to be at the eclipse spot for a few minutes. Even if you arrive an hour early and hang around for an hour afterwards to eat and celebrate — that’s still just two hours. Needing to be at the location for just a couple of hours tops opens up a lot of possibilities for viewing, especially if you don’t mind epic traffic jams when everyone else with the same idea simultaneously piles into their cars to get on the road.

If you belong to a church or other religious group, see if there are churches in your denomination near or in the umbra. They may be open to your camping out in the building or making use of the parking lot.

Or, if it works for you, bring an SUV, put a cot in the back, and sleep in your car on a remote road on public land. No hotel, no campground fee. No bathrooms, running water, or other conveniences, either.

The Small Matter of Traffic

Oh, and as noted already, there is the issue of traffic. Be prepared; check routes and give yourself plenty of time. Remote places may be better than busy metro areas.

Finally, weather. If you can be flexible, think of a Plan A and a Plan B location many, many miles apart, and check the weather forecast a day or two before. Head for the spot with the best chance of a clear sky for the eclipse. Easier said than done? Perhaps.

Photo credit: Robert Jack, via Flickr.

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