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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

No eclipse plans? Try these last-minute strategies.



People watch the moon eclipse the sun during the period of totality in Jackson, Wyo., Aug. 21, 2017. North America will experience its second total solar eclipse in seven years, though skywatchers in Mexico will be the first to see the eclipse on the mainland. (Celia Talbot Tobin/The New York Times)

By Derek M. Norman


On April 8, a total solar eclipse will blot out the sun for roughly 4,200 miles stretching from Mexico to Canada — a cosmic show that so much of North America won’t see again for about 20 years. Many made their plans to view it well in advance.


And then there are the procrastinators, who just realized they’re about to miss out. If that’s you, you’ve still got options, but not as many.


“At this point, your goal is just to get to the path of totality and see the eclipse for the longest possible time,” said Melanie Fish, head of global public relations for Expedia Group Brands. “You’re not trying to find the best party. You’re not trying to make it into your dream vacation. You just want to get to the path of totality.”


So, first, get your hands on some eclipse glasses so you can safely watch. Then find a way to get yourself into the path of totality, which is the strip running across 13 states where the moon will fully eclipse the sun. You’ll be competing with people who have already spiked the demand for flights and accommodations, so be ready to pay more.


And take off the next day, too, if you can. Otherwise, you may spend hours caught in traffic, as many discovered after the 2017 eclipse.


Here are four strategies for a last-minute foray into the total-eclipse zone.


Drive toward the darkness.


If you have access to wheels and live within a few hours of the path of the total eclipse, you can always jump in the car. You might even find relatively inexpensive accommodations just outside the zone, and then drive in from there.


But if you’re hoping to rent a car, you might have some trouble.


Rental car company Hertz reported a 3,000% increase in advanced bookings for car rentals in cities along the eclipse path compared with the previous year. The highest demand so far has come in places including Dallas and Austin, Texas, as well as Cleveland and Indianapolis.


If you want to try anyway, book your car as soon as possible and focus your search for rental agencies outside of high-volume areas such as airports, said Isabella Sawyer, a Hertz spokesperson. Neighborhood locations, she said, may have better availability.


Whether you rent or own your ride, be prepared for gridlock. “People arrive at different times, but everybody leaves at the same time — and that’s the problem,” said Aixa Diaz, an AAA spokesperson. “Let’s say you have about 5 million people looking at an eclipse, and everybody leaves at the same time. That’s like the equivalent of 71 sold-out football games all getting out at the same time.”


Fly into the zone.


You could also book a last-minute flight to a city in the path of the total eclipse, preferably one where you won’t need a car. Searches for flights along the eclipse path have quadrupled compared with the same time last year, said Katy Nastro, a spokesperson at Going.com.


“What is unique about this event is that people are not bound to fly to just one place to be able to experience the eclipse,” she said, “which means they can look at multiple cities in the path, or even cities near the path,” and then, provided you can find a rental car in your destination, drive into the path.


Go where the hotels are.


The path of totality crosses not only small towns but also plenty of hotel-rich urban areas stretching from Texas through the Midwest and upstate New York — including Dallas-Fort Worth; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Buffalo, New York; Rochester, New York; and Montreal.


But even in cities with more available rooms, you’ll still most likely have to pay a premium.


“I saw a two-star apartment hotel in Nashville going for $900 all in,” Fish said of one of the accommodations that she found (the Tennessee city is a couple of hours’ drive outside the total-eclipse path), “and a Super 8 in Indianapolis going for $500 the night of the eclipse. So, if you’re booking last minute to go see the eclipse, yeah, you are going to pay more.”


Packaging a flight and accommodations on a travel booking app could help save money, as well as headaches, Fish said. But don’t forget that you may need some sort of ground transportation, so look for packages that include it.


Keep an eye on the weather and stay flexible.


Clouds are the eclipse chaser’s nemesis. You can pick a place with the highest likelihood of clear skies and check the forecast obsessively, but the weather is fickle. If you’re driving, be prepared to take a detour at the last minute. And when the big moment nears, pull over safely in a park or a parking lot — not on the side of the road — turn off your car and prepare to be dazzled.


Even if you decide not to go anywhere at all, you may still be able to break out those glasses and feel some of the accompanying environmental changes. Many major cities will still see a partial eclipse: 94% in Chicago, 90% in New York, 82% in Atlanta and 49% in Los Angeles.


As Fish said, “The party’s in the sky, so all you’ve got to do is look up.”

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