10 Things You Need To Know Before You Travel to Israel
Traveling to Israel
If you're planning to travel to Israel, there are a few things you need to know. Having this information in advance will help you have a smoother & easier trip.
Allow plenty of time at your last departure airport
The security to enter Israel is very tight, and it takes time. Allow at least three hours at the airport so you can relax.
If you're not an Israeli passport holder, expect t be interviewed before you can check in for your flight. "Why are you traveling to Israel? Do you know anyone there? When will you see that person? What will you do with them?"
You will also be asked to show an onward or return ticket and give the details of your lodging.
Expect your cabin bag to be taken from you for inspection
Your cabin bag will probably be inspected before you are allowed to board the plane. You might be allowed to keep your phone and wallet with you, but your other electronics and valuables will be leaving your site for a while.
Be patient and remember that all this security is really necessary and protects you along with everyone else.
What to do while traveling in Israel
There are two sites in Israel that are simply not to be missed, as nothing like them exists anywhere else in the world.
- Jerusalem's sacred sites and historic Old City are incredible to visit. Regardless of your religion, it's very powerful to pray with Jewish people at the West Wall, or to visit the tomb of Jesus.
- The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth. The water is so salty that you can float like a cork, and its mud baths are famous as a beauty ritual.
There are loads of other options ranging from watersports in Eilat to cooking classes in Tel Aviv, plus pilgrimages to Bethlehem or camel-riding in the desert.
Travelers often venture past Israel's borders as well, to visit Petra in Jordan or the Sinai Peninsula and even Cairo in Egypt.
Complete tours to Israel
If you want someone else to do the planning, Intrepid Travel offers an incredibly affordable 5-day trip for young adults (ages 18-29) to see all the major sites for under $1000.
Intrepid Travel also has a full menu of tours for people of all ages in Israel, including a Holy Land Highlights tour, open to anyone, that's 8 days for under $3,000. It's a great price in this expensive country, and the tour hits all the major highlights.
Booking your own activities in Israel
You can book a tour of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea from Tel Aviv for under $100 with Get Your Guide. This tour will make sure you hit all the basics, and then you can plan the rest of your trip around that.
If you have more time, set aside a full day for the Dead Sea and visit the incredible ancient historic site of Masada as well with a tour like this one.
You don't need to rent a car in Isreal
Car rentals are expensive, and parking in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem can be a nightmare.
Luckily, the public transportation systems are fantastic and it's easy to get around. You can use Google Maps to easily find routes and schedules whether you're going across town or across the country. Jerusalem has a light rail that is easy to use and takes you directly into the Old City.
Uber is not legal in Israel, but you can download the lookalike GETT app and use it to summon a metered taxi just about anywhere.
Plan around Shabbat
From sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday is Shabbat, a holy day of rest in Israel. Most restaurants are open and taxis are available, but you won't find many buses during the day. It's best to plan your movements around Israel on other days of the week, and verify that anything you plan on a Saturday will be available.
Look for restaurants that offer special Shabbat dinners on Friday nights.
Don't be afraid of hostels in Israel
Israel is expensive. If the hotels are outside your budget, don't be afraid to try a hostel. The Abraham Hostels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Nazareth are very popular and well-located. They offer free breakfast, tours, and in-house activities like hummus workshops and flamenco nights. These hostels attract people of all ages from all over the world, including families and seniors, so you won't feel out of place even if you're not a typical hosteller.
You'll find English widely spoken, and at a very high level of fluency, all over Israel.
But it's fun to learn a few travel phrases. Here are the words you'll use most often:
- Shalom (used as hello and sometimes goodbye, it means peace)
- Toda (thank you). Say the word "toe" and then say "da." The accent is on the second syllable, as if you are saying "TaDA!"
- Toda raba (thank you very much - the r in raba is gargly from the back of your throat)
- Sababa! Used the way American use the word "Awesome!" It means thats great, ok, all is good.
If you enjoy languages and want to learn more, there's an affordable course on Udemy called Common Hebrew Made Easy that you might enjoy.
Israel is a sensitive place, with a history of violence that's hard to understand if you've never lived with the threat — or reality — of attacks on your soil. Many of the people that you'll meet, whether they're Palestinian or Israeli, have suffered tremendous losses and possibly witnessed violence first-hand.
Try to expose yourself to information about Israel's complicated history from both Palestinian and Israeli points of view. Keep an open mind, and respect the locals who prefer not to engage in difficult conversations with tourists.
Also, respect the country's need for security, and be patient with metal detectors and bag searches when necessary.