By Joanie Schildkraut
Israel is similar to Disney World in that no matter at what age you go, or what time of the year you travel, everyone comes home with fond memories to last a lifetime. No two trips will ever be the same, but here are some of the tips learned from our trip to Israel:
1. Hire a guide that comes recommended by someone who has actually used him/her. Having the right guide makes or breaks any trip, and more so when you are traveling abroad. I find it very difficult to decipher and comprehend information when accents are too thick. That said, there is an immense amount of information to be shared in Israel. If you have a guide that speaks fluent English it helps more than you know! You can simply try to absorb all the information coming at you without having to decipher it first.
2. I recommend to travel with multi-generations and/or extended family. I find it ironic that I am recommending this because we do most of our family vacations with only our immediate family. Israel has so much history and culture that it was part of the experience to see everyone of us on our trip interpret what we were learning – from ages 10 to 72! When traveling with family to Israel, you can’t help but feel more connected to your roots.
3. Give yourself as much time as you possibly can. You will not cover everything in Israel in one trip, but allowing at least 8 – 10 days in the country can give you a good overview, depending on what you want to see.
4. Start in Jerusalem and work around the country. This might be a personal preference, but I think starting the adventure in Jerusalem and the Old City is better than leaving it for the end. Jerusalem is where you learn the most about religion and there is a TON of information. I find I am eager to learn and soak in as much as possible at the beginning of my trips (to any place) rather than at the end.
5. Combine adventure fun with history. Our tour guide highly recommended that we include something “fun” and adventurous for our three boys each day (15, 13, 10 yrs old). I am so happy we did just that! Including something fun each day (ie: camel ride, hike, rafting, jeep tour, speed boat, caving) was a great way to keep motivated and moving onto the next excursion. But, do not be fooled! There was always a history lesson to be learned on the fun adventures, just without having to solely pay attention to someone talking.
6. Pack a GOOD water bottle! Invest in a stainless steel waterbottle (ie: Contigo or Swell). Having cold water at your fingertips was key! You want to stay hydrated while touring Israel, so you are always carrying water with you. The stainless steel bottles keep the water cold for hours on end. Worth the investment! (My 13 yr old would agree as well!)
7. Pack SUNSCREEN and a HAT! You cannot pack enough sunscreen when traveling during the summer months. If you think you have packed enough, throw in an extra bottle (or two!). You go through the sprays very fast as you are re-applying sunscreen all throughout the day. Having a hat to wear also helps block out the sun.
8. Bring good hiking and/or walking shoes. Had I known I was going to be hiking so much, I would have brought sturdier sneakers (ones with harder soles for hiking). I was told dress is casual in Israel. I did not believe it till I was there. You really do not need dress shoes. Leave the espadrilles home and take hiking shoes instead! You are constantly walking, and if you choose, hiking mountains and cliffs.
9. Include 2 days to end in Eilat and travel to Petra. We ended our Israeli adventure with a flight down to Eilat and a day trip to Petra. Eilat is definitely more of resort location with hotels right on the Red Sea and water activities to cool you off. DEFINITELY book a trip to Petra while down in Eilat (it is a whole day excursion). It’s approx. a 2 hour drive to Petra from the border. The entire experience is something that can not be missed, especially when you end your trip with this excursion. It put much of what we learned the 8 days prior into perspective.
10. Book hotels with pools! Since the weather is so hot, it was great to come back from a day of touring to have a dip in the pool. We stayed in 4 different hotels and 3 out of the 4 were on the ocean too. Having a pool (and beach) are great options for relaxing.
There are probably more tips to having a great experience touring Israel, but hopefully the several listed above can get you started. If you are looking for a guide that can assist with any size family or group, I would highly recommend Itai Tours. Itai Tennebaum came recommended to me by a friend and she was totally correct with all of her accolades. Each one of us had a fantastic time in Israel and look to return some day-with our hiking shoes!