Planning a trip to Israel? Do you have questions about local laws, social norms, or safety concerns? It’s always a good idea to be aware of what to expect and what you should plan for when planning a trip. Traveling tips can make a big difference in your traveling experience. From getting baptized in the Jordan river, visiting the Western Wall, worshiping in the Garden of Gethsemane to taking boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus prayed, here are 15 travel tips when planning a trip to Israel that will aid you on your trip.
Get To Know Some Of Israel’s History And Culture
Israel is a historic land with many spiritual roots. People often visit to experience different parts of the Holy Land which is an area roughly located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem itself, is known as the holiest city in Judaism and the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people since the 10th century BCE. The city of Jerusalem is given special status in Jewish religious law.
Amongst its spiritual roots, Israel has also experienced many violent and traumatic wars. Some, like the holocaust, are not even fathomable or can be put into words. Knowing that a nation has undergone so much war, death and grief; it is only honorable to understand some of its history upon visiting.
Friday Through Saturday Is A Time Of Rest
For the Jewish community, the weekend falls on Friday through Saturday as they honor the Sabbath; the Jewish day of rest. It starts just before sundown on Friday and goes through the night until the first three stars appear in the sky. During this time, Jewish people traditionally stay indoors, putting aside weekday stressors so they can commit themselves to higher pursuits. There are a number of activities that are prohibited during this time that can affect visitors; like electricity being shut off, closing down of restaurants and shops as well as transportation not operating. Having awareness of this Jewish custom allows for visitors to plan accordingly. One may even consider this to be a good time to visit the Western Wall where the Jews mark the start of the Sabbath.
Be Mindful Of What You Pack
Even though Israel is mostly a liberal country, there are varying dress codes and requirements throughout some of its parts. In Tel Aviv anything goes but in places like Jerusalem, modesty is expected. Shoulder coverage and covering down to the knees is appreciated in places like Jerusalem. Having a scarf or shawl on hand is always a good idea as they can be quickly used to cover oneself if the need arises.
Traveling Throughout Israel Can Be Costly
Israel is an expensive country, so know what the current currency is going for and what you plan to buy before traveling. Researching prior to your trip on the cost of general items in the areas you’ll be visiting is a good idea.
No Need To Worry
Since July of 2018, visitors no longer need to worry about receiving the foreboding Israeli passport stamp. Instead, when you arrive you’ll have your photo taken and a barcode issued to you along with personal information on a small blue Israel visa card. This tourist card will be used at all hotels, car rental agencies and basically be your identification as a tourist. You’ll want to make sure you hang onto this card but if you lose it, don’t worry! You’ll just have to pay a tax for a new one. Upon departure you’ll be given another card similar to this but in pink. You can keep both as souvenirs, so be sure not to keep it in your passport case as it could be taken and discarded by staff upon checkout.
Expect To Be Questioned
Don’t take it personally. It’s completely normal that when you arrive you’ll be asked why you are visiting and where you are staying; along with other personal questions. On departure they’ll most likely go through your passport and question you about the stamps from countries you’ve visited if they’re wary of them. This is all normal protocol. Even being asked to step aside and dump your belongings is no concern for panic. They are just doing their due diligence in efforts to keep everyone safe.
Safety Is Important But Don’t Fret About It
Knowing anything about Israel’s history can put you on edge, however, Israel as a whole is a safe and peaceful place. Exercising natural and normal levels of caution is all that is needed. If you really want to be proactive, check in with your local government travel advisory prior to hopping on your plane to receive current news updates.
Don’t Be Surprised By Military Personnel
At the age of 18 all genders are required to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). It’s a right of passage for Israeli citizens and though once restricted, women have held positions since 1995. Today they make up 51% of Israel’s army. Seeing these military personnel on the streets should be expected. They are regarded as being a contributing factor to Israel’s economic success and safety.
Places like Jerusalem are typically walkable cities. Most tourists expect to be on their feet much of time. But if your in need of transportation it’s good to know what’s available. Metro trams operate at different ends of the city and there is a multitude of busing options available. Shared taxis operate throughout the country as do mini bus shuttles between key destinations. For everything else there is Uber, or in this case, Gett. Its a taxi app that is the equivalent of Uber and will help you with your transportation needs.
The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth so it’s a must visit if your in the area. Known for its high salt content, visitors can float effortlessly in the Dead Sea and for therapeutic purposes, you can rub some of the mud from the waters edge on your skin. Remember, it has an extremely high salt content so don’t shave beforehand.
The Best Time To Visit
It depends on why your visiting in order to answer this question. Overall, there is never a bad time to visit as Israel is a wonderful country but there are different seasons and festivals going on throughout the year that you may want to plan your trip around. Summer is considered June through September and is best for those planning to spend a lot of time at the beach. Spring comes in April through May and Autumn falls in October and November. These times are the best for touring the country. Winter lies throughout December and into March, which is perfect for those seeking to hit the highlands for skiing.
Is Tipping A Custom In Israel
Tipping in Israel is discretionary but expected like that of the Western world. The going rate is between 10-15% with 10% being the lowest, 12% average and 15% for great service. Waiters and bartenders are generally paid a low salary with the majority of their earnings coming from tips. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, are not customarily tipped.
Water Is Safe To Drink
Water in Israel is safe to drink but it does have a higher mineral content which may not sit well with your stomach. Having a bottle that you can fill or buying bottled water may be helpful if you find this to be the case. Almost all of the hotels will have a water fountain where you can fill up if you prefer to do so.
Guess What? Smoking Inside Is Allowed
Over here in the Western States we’ve grown accustomed to the ban of smoking cigarettes inside public places. In places like Tel-Aviv however, this is a normalcy, and even smoking Marjuana is allowed, so be forewarned if that’s not something you care to be around.
Beaches In Tel Aviv
Remember how we mentioned that Tel-Aviv is a lot more liberal? Well, expect that at their beaches. Most beaches around this area are themed to bring in certain people groups. Gender specific beaches, family friendly beaches and even yuppie beaches are a thing. Know what your looking to enjoy before just setting out on the water. The whole point in visiting the beach is to enjoy and embrace your vacation so don’t let the atmosphere of a specific beach ruin that for you.
All in all, almost anywhere you travel, you’ll need to have some idea of what to expect. Especially if your traveling out of the country. Israel is a beautiful country with many destinations that will fit just about anyone’s tastes. Crystal clear waters and white beaches, delectable foods, awe inspiring architecture and strong historical roots are just some of the reasons that make Israel worth visiting. But before you go, just do a little research when planning your trip, so that you can settle comfortably into your vacation. Better yet, book a group tour with an expert guide which can help to answer questions and help to make the most of your trip.