Israel Travel Tips
You’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto 😉
A few things about Israel that you might find helpful to know or surprising:
- Israeli water is totally safe to drink, but it tastes different from American water because of different mineral contents. If it’s not to your taste, you can always buy bottled water.
- Kibbutzim. A “kibbutz” is a collective community traditionally based on farming. They were founded on the principles of socialism, so in the past that basically meant that no individual owned anything—all members shared in the work, property and profits of the kibbutz. Today most kibbutzim are no longer run like that, but they are still beautiful, quaint rural communities.
- Hiking trails! Hiking trails everywhere! Israel has one of the best networks of marked hiking trails in the world. Israelis love a good hike!(But don’t worry, you won’t need to be hiking every day 🙂
- Stray cats. They’re everywhere. They may be cute, but admire them from afar; they can be dangerous.
- Security guards. Israel takes many precautions when it comes to safety and security, so security guards are stationed at the entrances to most public buildings. This is a fact of life in Israel to keep everyone safe. So, just open your bag and show it to them; they’ll glance at it, feel it a little, and then give it back to you. Some places have metal detectors too.
- Soldiers. You’ll meet some Israeli soldiers as part of our trip, but you will also see them everywhere, and many of them are on active duty. Don’t worry—they’re the good guys!
- Everyone cares about you in Israel. Random strangers will tell you to put on a sweater on a chilly evening. Don’t be surprised if a random mom asks you to keep an eye on her baby while she runs to the bathroom for a minute. Israel is like a big family 🙂
Like any modern country, Israeli restaurants offer every kind of cuisine you could hope for. But we want you to experience Israel, so we’ll make sure you taste the best of the Middle Eastern cuisine—from festive meats and cheeses to chocolate shwarma to falafel (deep fried chickpea balls, served in a pita with hummus and salads) to shakshuka (eggs poached in tomato sauce). If you keep kosher, you’ll discover that Israel truly is the Promised Land; almost all packaged products are certified kosher, and a majority of eateries, too. Did someone say “kosher McDonald’s”?! Check out our cool Israeli food list!
One exciting element of Israel is its shopping. A special shopping opportunity in Israel is visiting a “shuk”, or open marketplace. As you walk through it, you will find an array of fresh fruit juices, and amazing traditional Israeli foods you can bring home to your family. When you go through the streets of any main city in Israel, you will see there are a wide variety of street vendors selling magnificent and fun jewelry. Many artists and jewelry-makers sell awesome hand-crafted jewelry, including beautiful hand-made rings. If you want to bring your family and friends home a little piece of Israel, Tzfat, Jerusalem, and the Shuks are great places to get gifts! A fun thing about shopping in Israel is that most places you can bargain for the price. If you are good at haggling, you will end up having some really good buys! In Jerusalem and Tzfat you also will find amazing and unique artwork and craftsmanship, like beautiful havdala candles from the Tzfat candle factory. Also, we’ll be visiting some incredible wineries where you can purchase high-quality bottles of kosher wine to bring home. Make sure to leave some room in your suitcase!
Israel is a modern country and its medical system is one of the most advanced in the world. If you have an emergency, you will be in good hands. Click here to learn about travel insurance.
Overall, Israel enjoys pretty mild winters. The average temperature in the cooler areas hovers in the high 40’s, and in the warmer areas, the 50’s or 60’s (and even 70’s!). It is rare for the temperature to dip below freezing, and down south it stays comfortably warm and sunny. So you’ll want to bring a range of possibilities and plan to dress in layers. It does get rainy in the winter, so bring a waterproof coat and umbrella.
Even in the winter, the sun can be harsh. Carry a water bottle with you at all times (and drink from it, even when you’re not thirsty!), wear a hat, and apply sunscreen!
Israeli summers are hot, dry and sunny. There is virtually no rain at all from around May to October, so every day is a beach day! In the summer it’s especially important to drink constantly and protect your skin from the sun. It may seem counter-intuitive, but learn from the Bedouin—clothes offer the best protection from the sun, and you may actually be cooler in clothes with more coverage if they are roomy and allow the air to circulate.
Obviously, all our tours and activities will be in English. The native language in Israel is Hebrew, but most Israelis speak at least a little English—and love to practice on tourists! You shouldn’t have any problem ordering food or asking where the bathroom is. But, even so, we make sure you can learn new exotic Hebrew words each day to wow your friends with. (We also offer you free Hebrew prep courses before the trip, you can sign up here!)
The currency in Israel is New Israeli Shekels (NIS). The exchange rate is around 3.4 shekels to a dollar. #Protip – It tends to be cheaper and easier to exchange your money by simply using your American ATM card to withdraw cash. If you don’t have an ATM card, you can get a temporary debit card, or you can bring cash to exchange. Small exchange stands are cheaper than banks, and you can find them in most places where there are lots of tourists.
Staying in Touch
Having a cell phone in Israel is mandatory for safety reasons, and fortunately getting one—or using your current one—is both easy and cheap! Click here to read about some low-cost options we’ve negotiated for you.
Free wi-fi is available in many cafés and hotels.
The time zone is Israel is GMT+2; that’s 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Like a majority of the planet, Israel uses the metric system—meaning they measure temperature in Celsius, distance in kilometers, weight in kilograms, and volume in liters. Nowadays you can do conversions from one system to the other really easily by just plugging it into the Google search bar (for example: 70 F to C), or you could download a unit conversion app for your smartphone or tablet.
Clothing and shoe size are also measured differently. Israel uses the European system. Click here for a conversion chart.
You can buy anything you need in Israel, but note that things tend to be more expensive, particularly imported products. If you’re fanatically attached to your brand of shampoo, probably best to bring it with you. (Seal it in a Ziploc bag—you don’t want it exploding all over your stuff—and check it with your luggage to avoid security issues. Click here for more information about travel security). But why not give Israeli brands a try? Ahava, for example, is an internationally celebrated Israeli brand that utilizes the healing minerals and compounds from the Dead Sea.
Israeli electricity runs on 220 volts, so if you want to bring an appliance, make sure it can run on that voltage, or purchase a converter kit at a hardware store. Even if it will run on 220V, the electric plugs are different from American ones, so you’ll need a converter to a Type C plug (the same one used in Europe).
Here are a bunch of guidelines for tipping during your stay in Israel:
- Waiters: 10-15% of the bill is appropriate depending on the scale of the eatery
- Tour guide and bus driver: it is customary (but not mandatory) to tip $70 for the 10 day Birthright Israel trip.
- Taxi drivers are not tipped in Israel. Note: Use of taxis is not allowed while touring on the Birthright Israel trip. No public transportation is allowed.
- North American staff: not appropriate or customary to tip.
- Israeli guard/medic: not appropriate or customary to tip.
- Leaving a few dollars for the maid in the hotel room is a nice gesture as well.