Israel travel tips

1. For Jerusalem, we strongly recommend Abraham Hostel. It’s not the cheapest in the area, but it is the nicest and safest. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the Jaffa Gate and very near nice restaurants and stores. With a fun, colorful vibe, it was designed to be a youth hostel. But we saw many older couples and young families there as well.

2. Food in the Old City of Jerusalem (And probably Tel Aviv) is above average prices. Most places are probably comparable to food in New York City. We were caught unawares!

3. While the City of David museum/archeological site is a must, make sure to go several hours before closing if you want to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnels. That closes earlier than the rest of the park (around sunset), and to go through (always with a guide), you must rent/purchase a flashlight and be willing to walk through water. Depending on your height, it will be knee-deep or thigh-deep.

4. If you choose to do Abraham Tours, which is a great option for those of us on a strict budget, make sure to download the Abraham Tours app. You can read this in the van while driving to your next destination. It helps orient you in the geographical and historical contexts. We discovered this halfway through our time in Israel and wished we had found it earlier. It’s not well advertised.

5. While at times security can be tight (like the airport!), usually it is very safe to be in Israel and even the West Bank. We never felt unsafe while we were there, even at the Syrian border. Jordan’s parents were in Israel a couple of months before us and also had a wonderful time without worrying about their wellbeing. Of course, be safe and follow your instincts, but really Israel is a great country to visit and open to travelers, especially Americans.

6. Israelis don’t call it the Wailing Wall. Instead, it’s the Western Wall, and there are many people that pray there at all times of the day. It’s always very crowded on the Sabbath. When you visit, there is a separate side for men and women. While not necessary, I think it is polite to cover your hair if you’re a woman. When finished praying, back away from the wall several paces before turning and leaving–that’s what the Jewish people do.

7. The one thing I wish I had done was a tour of the West Bank. Although we did go to Bethlehem, I think it is very different than Hebron or Ramallah. Abraham Tours also has a tour that allows you to listen to Israeli and Palestinian families talk about the conflict and how it affects them on a personal, day-to-day level. We ran out of time, but otherwise I would’ve jumped at the opportunity. Other sights we missed but wanted to do: Holocaust Museum, Orthodox Jew tour, and celebrating Shabbat.

8. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv seem to have a vibrant theater and performing arts scene. If you have the time, I would strongly suggest going to a show or play. I found three or four shows that I wanted to attend, but we didn’t have the time, nor did we plan for shows in our budget. If I ever go back, that will be something I look into. It’s a great way to get to know the culture of the modern city and the people living in it.
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Morgan S Hazelwood

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