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20 Priceless Tips For First Time Travellers To Israel

Israel

Israel might be tiny in size, but it can be very intimidating, especially for first-time visitors. Israeli society is very complex and not short of history, conflict, and culture. Don’t let this put you off, it is a truly amazing place and fascinating to explore and learn about. Here are 20 tips and tricks for first-time visitors to Israel.

#1 Expose yourself to many perspectives

By far the most important tip is to expose yourself to many perspectives--particularly if your trip is via Birthright or other one-sided viewpoint. Go out and listen to Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Visit secular and religious sites. Seek out peace activists. Take the short bus ride from Jerusalem to Ramallah. Have a falafel in an Arab community like Gush Halav or East Jerusalem. 

You cannot have a real understanding of Israel without having encounters with people who have been affected on all sides of the conflict. Embrace it. You'll have a much deeper and more memorable trip. 

On our first trip we set up appointments ahead of time with leading figures in the Israeli Jewish peace movement and stayed in both a Palestinian village and an Israeli West Bank settlement (as well as a Palestinian hotel in East Jerusalem and a Chassidic community of mostly formerly secular immigrants from the US. 

On our second trip (chronicled at http://frugalfun.com/israel.html ), we stayed in a Druze village, had an accidental encounter and interview with a villager forced from his home in 1948 when he was 11, who was conducting a one-man Occupy movement in his native village (now a national park), and attended a concert with both Israeli and Palestinian performers, including a Chassidic rapper-rabbi and a ten-year-old Bedouin boy.

Contributor: Shel Horowitz 

Company: goingbeyondsustainability.com

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#2 Be prepared for questions at the border

Be prepared for questions at the border - on arrival, but also, significantly, on departure when an immigration officer will go through your passport and ask questions. If you have any stamps from predominantly Muslim countries, be prepared to give approximate travel dates, who you traveled with and whether you are still in touch with anyone from that country. It's all done in a friendly manner, so there is nothing to worry about, but it helps to refresh your memory in advance.

Contributor: Jill Bowdery

Company: readingthebooktravel.com

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#3 Take advice from locals about no-go areas in the city you are visiting

Take advice from locals about no-go areas in the city you are visiting - don't rely on outdated information from guidebooks. Certain communities are more volatile than others, and only a local might know when you would get into trouble. Stay away from the flashpoints, however, and you will be at no risk.

Contributor: Jill Bowdery

Company: readingthebooktravel.com

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#4 Take care with mobile phones close to the border with Jordan

Phones will often pick up a Jordanian signal near the border, which can result in huge charges if your package does not include roaming outside Israel.

Contributor: Jill Bowdery

Company: readingthebooktravel.com

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#5 Transport options on Shabbat can be limited

Transport options on Shabbat (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) can be limited, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Contributor: Jill Bowdery

Company: readingthebooktravel.com

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#6 Don't be intimidated by the political situation in Israel

It's an incredible country, and as long as you use common sense, you will be safe and have a wonderful time!

Contributor: Jill Bowdery

Company: readingthebooktravel.com

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#7 Bring sunglasses and a hat

The sun is strong here, all year around.

Contributor: Amy Ozeri

Company: modestjerusalem.com

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#8 Israelis love kids, so don't hesitate to travel here with a

You can breastfeed in public and playgrounds in all neighborhoods.

Contributor: Amy Ozeri

Company: modestjerusalem.com

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#9 You must visit Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market

You must visit Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda market, otherwise called the shouk. The market will hit all your senses at one time.

Contributor: Amy Ozeri

Company: modestjerusalem.com

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#10 Israeli Ice Coffee is not the same as American Ice Coffee

Israeli Ice Coffee is not the same as American Ice Coffee. Israeli Ice Coffee, called Ice Kafe is basically a coffee milkshake (very delicious!). If you want the American version, you need to ask for a cold Americano with ice and milk.

Contributor: Amy Ozeri

Company: modestjerusalem.com

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#11 Start an exercise/walking program well before you travel

The Old City of Jerusalem, as well as many other ancient sites, often require a bit of walking to access. Many times, you will be on stone paths or other uneven walkways You'll be more comfortable if you've done some conditioning before you travel. We usually suggest that you've worked up to 40 minutes of walking at least 3 times a week.

Contributor: Debra Ruzbasan 

Company: ed-ventures.com

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#12 Start walking in your travel shoes at least a month before you travel

Start walking in your travel shoes at least a month before you travel. This will help you break in the shoes, and ensure that if they do cause blisters or other issues you'll have time to heal before you travel.

Contributor: Debra Ruzbasan

Company: ed-ventures.com

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#13 Dress in layers

There are multiple climates in a relatively small country. You might start the morning with a Mediterranean coastal breeze, and then have a hot morning in the desert, and end the day at a higher altitude and cooler temperatures.

Contributor: Debra Ruzbasan

Company: ed-ventures.com

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#14 Never shave your legs the day before or the day you go into the dead sea

Never shave your legs the day before or the day you go into the dead sea. The salt is acrid and will hurt!!!

Contributor: Brad Biren

Company: desmoinesinjurylaw.com

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#15 Get a pair of Tevas

They are like a religion in Israel, where everyone is outdoors in the hot weather. You need to wear shoes that are comfortable, breathable and suited for the beach or land.

Pick up some Teva's here.

Contributor: Nicole Faith

Company: 10caratcreations.com

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#16 Bring several reusable water bottles… and keep them filled

Bring several reusable water bottles… and keep them filled. Water isn’t an accessory or nice-to-have… it’s a must-have. Don’t underestimate how much water you will need to drink in Israel!

Contributor: Nicole Faith

Company: 10caratcreations.com

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#17 Don't be alarmed by the Adhan

The Adhan, or the Islamic call to prayer, happens five times a day and is projected via a loudspeaker from mosques. While it is quite beautiful, the 4:00am call can be alarming to Westerners who aren't accustomed to hearing it.

Contributor: Alexandra Stockton

Company: alexandrastockton.com

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#18 Hire a private guide

Israel may be a small country, but it contains sacred sites for three major religions and has thousands of years worth of history. Hiring a guide enhances your experience and makes the history come to life. If you are interested in a specific religion or topic, a guide can tailor the tour to your interests. If you don't know how to hire a guide- contact a travel agent.

Contributor: Alexandra Stockton

Company: alexandrastockton.com

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#19 Don't skip Galilee

Many visit Galilee for a religious pilgrimage, but there are plenty of others reasons to visit this part of the country. The scenery is breathtaking and there are some excellent wineries that are worth a visit. (Side note: Domaine du Castel outside of Jerusalem is also an excellent winery to visit if you are interested in wine and don't have time to get to Galilee).

Contributor: Alexandra Stockton

Company: alexandrastockton.com

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#20 Saying No: Do not be afraid to say No.

Unlike the US or EU, where people may hesitate to ask for help, Israelis rarely hesitate to ask for a favor. Although this may seem rude, it is just a different system. They see no harm in asking and are rarely too offended by a no. 

In fact, much of the local culture reflects Silk Route trading and merchant cultures, based on bargaining. The concept of not being ripped off, a sucker or frier is key. If you say yes too often, you won't be seen as nice, you'll be seen as a sucker. So, practice those no's!

Contributor: Kristina Barger

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