Meet the Enthusiasts Traveling Thousands of Miles for the Astronomical Event of a Solar Eclipse

Among ancient civilizations who regarded solar eclipses as an , the sight of the cosmic phenomenon would have been cause for despair. But for many enthusiasts traveling thousands of miles to see the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, the opposite is true.

“I’m not in any way religious at all. But [the eclipse is] almost as close to a religious moment as I think you can get,” says Sarah Marwick, a 51-year-old doctor based in the U.K. “It makes you feel enormous and tiny at the same time.”

Marwick—who has seen six eclipses in the last 25 years in the Arctic Circle, China, France, Libya, the U.S., and Zimbabwe—is an eclipse chaser, or umbraphile. The neologism cannot be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but the word, meaning shadow lover, is used to describe the people who flock across the globe for a chance to see the moon obscure the sun. Eclipses happen anywhere from four to seven times a year, . But solar eclipses are a much rarer phenomenon to see than lunar eclipses because they are only visible from a small area of the Earth each time they occur. 

“If it’s 10 seconds or several minutes, it doesn’t matter. It’s always too short for you,” says Tunç Tezel, a 46-year-old civil engineer from Turkey who has seen 13 solar eclipses and three lunar eclipses since 1999. He is traveling more than 6,000 miles from Istanbul to Houston this April. “The light comes back, and then you start to think, ‘When’s the next one? Where’s the next one? I think I need to see another one.’” 

For many, the obsession with eclipses began in childhood. “Growing up in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, one of the big things that I remember seeing were the two great comets we had,” says 35-year-old Aditya Madhavan, who has been chasing eclipses since he saw the “great American solar eclipse” in 2017. Others credit science teachers who inspired their love of space. But for most, the eclipse bug bit soon after they saw their first. 

It’s hard to say how many people identify as an umbraphile. On Facebook, a public solar eclipse chasing group has nearly 21,000 members—an increase of about 13% since March. Not all of them are enthusiasts—some join to advertise their product or offer accommodations to see the eclipse—but filmmaker Nelson Quan, a member, says he noticed an explosion in interest after the 2017 eclipse. “Because these eclipses are in these narrow paths and certain places in the world, you kind of meet the same people,” says Quan, who directed a documentary about eclipse chasing called Chasing Shadows. 

In 2023, for instance, some to Exmouth, Australia for the eclipse. That town had a of 2,800. “Take a place like Australia. You think, ‘Australia is a big country?’ Well, yes, it is. But when the eclipse only hits the tip of it in Exmouth, it becomes a very small country,” says Mandie Adams, a 59-year-old landlord working in real estate.

Quan says the first online umbraphile community he remembers was a group on Yahoo called “the solar eclipse mailing list,” which included leaders of the previous generation of eclipse chasers, like astrophysicist Fred Espenak, otherwise known as “Mr. Eclipse;” cartographer Michael Zeiler, creator of; and Xavier Jubier, the mastermind behind an interactive Google Maps site that details the timing and phases of an eclipse.  

Now that the community has grown, amateurs and newly-identifying eclipse chasers are using online platforms to share lodging plans, ask for tips, and recount tales of past trips abroad. Of the ten eclipse chasers TIME spoke to for this story, two traveled only in the U.S. for the 2017 eclipse and for this year’ astronomical event, six are traveling from other countries to see the April 8 eclipse in the U.S., and many already had plans to see the next total solar eclipse in 2026, with the most popular destination being Spain. “We are trying to do anything we can to see these eclipses as long as it’s possible,” says Tezel, a moderator of the Facebook group. “Maybe we are a bit more dedicated or a bit crazy. You decide.”

The most significant barrier to becoming an eclipse chaser might be the cost. Atlanta-based Madhavan paid $14,000 to travel to Antarctica via ship for an eclipse in 2021—and wasn’t . The eclipse tourism industry is gaining traction. This year, Delta Air Lines is marketing flights for eclipse chasers to see the event from the sky and a is expected to impact states in the 115-mile wide path of totality. 

Olivier Steiger, 65, says he strategically plans his eclipse trips to save costs. To maximize his time for his buck, Steiger plans on spotting other natural phenomena on this trip: he’s going to follow the northern lights for a few nights before heading to the U.S. for the eclipse, and hopefully do some storm chasing and see a tornado in Texas afterwards. Steiger says it’s cheaper to travel within Europe, and he can usually spot deals depending on where he wants to go. For this trip, he is driving down from Switzerland to Milan to take a cheaper flight to Iceland, before flying to Denver and then driving down south. 

Marwick, a mother to two children, says the cost of traveling with her family dictates her destination, accommodations, and length of time away from work. “If you’ve got a family, there’s a difference between taking a flight to Toronto that costs $400, or one that’s, you know, going to be $3,000 to Texas, and much longer time,” she says. 

Being frugal has allowed Adams, based in England, to backpack through Chicago, Nashville, Austin, and Fort Worth during the four weeks leading up to the eclipse. “I don’t go for luxuries back home. I don’t go out and buy handbags and expensive clothes,” she says. “I want my money to be for experiences like the eclipse.”

For many umbraphiles, traveling for an eclipse will be their one extended vacation of the year. “It kind of is an excuse for us to get out of the country and go to places that maybe we wouldn’t have been before,” says Madhavan. Tunzel, who has a copy of the Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, which has maps of eclipse paths through 2035, jokingly refers to his catalog as his vacation planner. 

This year, Madhavan is traveling to Torreon, Mexico for the first time, but has also gone to countries like Australia in 2023 for an eclipse that only lasted for around a minute. “We traveled halfway around the world for [about] 56 seconds of totality, which makes it sound really crazy,” he says, “but the sun itself and the phenomena that we saw around this eclipse were just beautiful.”

That moment is never guaranteed, but the anticipation is worth it. “It’s like a calling,” says Tenzel. “We drop everything, meet… that eclipse happens, and then we go back to what we are doing in our normal lives.” And then the cycle begins again.