Israel tours are among the world's most sought-after travel products. Jews, Christians, Muslims, historians, and other intellectually curious travelers book flights and ground tours here. Most leave with new insights about their faith or at the very least, some excellent memories of their time among the residents of this land.
For many budget travelers, it will take a significant investment of time and money to travel to Israel. Flights tend to be expensive. Ground transportation can involve complicated logistics and security precautions that drive up costs.
Don't make the fairly common mistake of signing up for just any guided tour. Go with people you trust to provide factual and relevant information.
Failing to Hire an Experienced Guide
Some will arrive in Israel as part of a guided tour. Others will hire guides once in country. In either case, check the credentials of the person(s) leading each tour. Someone lacking the specialty you desire might gloss over important facts that could add value to your trip.
For example, if you are a Christian with a special interest in New Testament locations, or a historian exploring the ancient Hebrew sites, be certain the guide service will be sending someone with an academic background connected to your needs.
The guide pictured here who led my tours of mostly Christian sites is a Jew with 20 years of experience as an archaeologist. He is comfortable quoting passages from the New Testament as well as the Old Testament. His knowledge greatly enhanced my experiences at each site.
Your guide need not share your religious background or political views in order to provide a great experience. But it is crucial to check credentials and get the best guide your budget will provide.
Assuming Danger Is Around Every Corner
During a visit in 2016, I took this shot of U.N. peacekeepers watching the Israeli-Syrian border. A horrific Syrian civil war raged within a few miles of this safe spot. On the same trip, I saw a Lebanese village controlled by Hezbollah and a kibbutz near Sderot and the Gaza Strip with bomb shelters scattered across the landscape every few hundred yards.
Danger in Israel is a constant companion that some people here live with on a daily basis. But it is unwise to assume that danger always lurks around every corner. It will spoil your trip and insult your hosts.
Much of the violence is limited to trouble spots that tourists are unlikely to visit. The travel industry is carefully tuned into all the latest developments. If there is a chance of trouble, your tour will be rescheduled or canceled. In these cases, it might prove wise to carry some travel insurance.
But if there are no imminent travel warnings, relax and enjoy your trip. Don't let the threat of violence detract from your investment in time and money.
Failing to Distinguish Between Israel and Palestine
It isn't always easy to determine the borders of Israel and Palestine. But you should pay attention to your surroundings.
For example, one passes between the two countries within the environs of Jerusalem. The short trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem requires crossing a border and in some cases changing drivers or guides. Israeli citizens are not allowed into some sections of Palestine, including Bethlehem.
The red sign at this border paints an ominous picture for violators. Be certain as you plan your daily itineraries that you are familiar with possible border crossings and the logistical issues that arise.
Being Ill-Prepared for the Walking and the Weather
In summer, the Dead Sea area can reach temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, higher elevations receive snowfall at times. None of this is really much different from many parts of North America.
But some travelers assume that a desert environment is always hot. It can result in the need for buying sweaters or sweatshirts. Consult the daily forecasts prior to your trip.
Another packing mistake that will cost you dearly in Israel -- neglecting to bring comfortable footwear. Many of the most commonly visited sites require extensive walking and the navigation of stairways. Blistered feet from ineffective shoes can diminish the investment you've made in your trip. Be certain you're well equipped.
Ignoring Everyday Life in Israel
The historical significance of Israel is staggering. It's quite easy to become focused on what happened here in the past without taking a good look at modern Israel.
Israel has become a high tech innovator and is home to a growing list of international companies. In your quest to savor Israel's rich history, don't fail to experience what Israel has become.
Plan for high holy days such as Ramadan or Yom Kippur. Each Sabbath or Shabbat (from sundown on Friday through nightfall on Saturday) is strictly observed in many quarters. This could alter your meal plans or affect whether the nearby hotel has rooms for the night.
Fearing Language Difficulties
Road signs in Israel provide the first clue that this truly is a multi-lingual nation. You'll find direction in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
In most tourist destinations, English usually is spoken and understood. In remote villages, you might find spots where English simply is not common. But most visitors find they can manage quite well without an extensive knowledge of Hebrew or Arabic. Think twice about spending money on dictionaries or language lessons if your visit will be relatively short. As always, it pays to learn a few words as a courtesy. In Hebrew, common words such as shalom, L'chaim, and slicha are easily learned.
Failing to Enjoy the Food
Some travelers arrive in Israel expecting merely to tolerate the food. They quickly learn that meals are savored here, and the cuisine is varied, unique, and delicious.
Many tour groups will stop at a restaurant and be served family style. Tables are filled with fresh meats, fish, vegetables, and breads. Kebabs, which are common in the Middle East, provide some of the meat with a smoked barbeque taste that is both pleasing and unforgettable.
Remember that Israel, like the United States and Canada, is a melting pot. People have settled here from every corner of the world and brought their favorite dishes with them. So expect opportunities to sample a wide variety of cuisine.
On a tight budget? Visit one of the many open-air markets in Israeli cities and prepare your own meal. These farmers markets are great sources of fresh local produce and pita breads baked before your eyes and ready for purchase.
You'll also hear debates about which cities offer the best hummus. Enjoy the opportunities to sample and make your own judgments.
Failing to Allow Time at Ben Gurion Airport
Ben Gurion Airport serves both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is a bit of a drive from either place, but especially far from Jerusalem. Modern highways connect these places, but it is best to allow plenty of time for your trip to the airport.
Because this can be a troubled part of the world, security at Ben Gurion is tight, and delays can occur as passengers are screened.
Missing an international flight can create costs and inconvenience you don't need. Arrive early and enjoy shopping (or window shopping) in the new terminal.