I just got back from my first trip to Israel. It was also my first time at a TBEX conference and I ended up having a blast. Like I have already mentioned multiple times on my social media channels, Israel surprised me and I am really glad that I went. As a first-time visitor to Israel, I had lots of doubts when planning a trip to Israel. That is why I have decided to answer some of the questions that first timers will have while planning a trip to Israel.
I will try my best to assuage some of the fears that you have when planning a trip to Israel.
Is it safe to travel in Israel as a solo female traveler?
This is one of the questions that many people asked me when I told them that I was going to Israel. “Is it safe to go there?” Unfortunately, this trip was not exactly a solo trip. Since I had gone for TBEX, I spent most of my time with travel bloggers from around the world. But I did spend some time traveling solo in Tel Aviv and I really felt safe here too. I stick to my motto: “Don’t do stupid things you won’t do back at home and you will be fine”.
What about the conflict in the region?
I really didn’t get to go to places like Bethlehem and I would definitely be going back one day to visit them. But many of my friends managed to do day tours to places like Bethlehem and Nazareth and all of them loved it.
All I can say is that stop believing blindly what the media has been feeding you for the past so many years. Israel like many other countries has a turbulent past and they are doing everything slowly to change the opinion that people have of them.
We are talking of a place where people from 3 religions are trying to coexist. Hence there will definitely be some friction surrounding that. But as a traveler in Israel, you will definitely not face any problems because of this.
Since military service is mandatory for most young Israelis, you will find many of them around the cities carrying guns.
How much should I budget when traveling to Israel?
Israel is definitely not cheap. When it comes to budgeting, it is better to have a similar budget as when you are traveling to Europe.
The currency used here is the New Israeli Shakel (NIS). 1 NIS is equivalent to around 18 rupees or 0.28 $. I tried converting some USD to Shakels in India but I was not successful. I managed to change the currency (USD) at the airport and you can find money changing services all around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Additionally, I was able to withdraw Shakels using my Indian debit card as well. They also accept international credit cards all over Israel.
Using Public Transportation in Israel:
This was one of the best services I found in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. A bus ride costs around minimum 4.7 Shakels. Since we were guests of Jerusalem Development Authority, all of us were given free metro cards for a week that was valid for all tram, train and bus services. It was really helpful and the connectivity is really good in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I even caught a bus post 12:30 AM one night. You can find more details about the prices here.
Using Cab Services in Israel:
I landed in Tel Aviv around 5 in the morning. I knew that cabs would be expensive and decided to catch a train to the city center. It cost me less than 15 Shakels and I was soon in the city center. Alternatively, you can catch a bus to the city center. From there, I decided to hail a cab to my hostel. It was showing a distance of around 2 kms and the guy charged me around 80 Shakels. I knew that it was too high but I was still too groggy eyed to argue with him. There is no meter system in most places and you have to be careful while hailing a cab in Israel.
We did do cab pooling when we were in Jerusalem. But they used to usually charge around 40-50 shakels per trip and we used to use cabs when it was too late in the night.
Using Sheruts in Israel:
Sheruts are shared cabs/ shuttles and they usually run once every hour, 24/7 from Tel Aviv airport to Jerusalem. Other routes are also available and you can pre-book your trip around 24 hours before you land in Israel. I booked a sherut from my hotel in Jerusalem to go to the airport in Tel Aviv. It takes around 45 minutes and they charge you around 75 shakels per person. A cab ride at the same time can cost you around 215- 250 shakels.
Where to stay in Israel:
I can only tell this from my experience but I was really pleased with both my choices. I stayed at Abraham hostel in Tel Aviv and at the Dan Boutique hotel in Jerusalem. Abraham hostel is a nice hostel and they were our hosts as well in Jerusalem. It is really a fun hostel and they have many activities scheduled every day. The pub crawl organized by them in Jerusalem was one of the highlights of my trip to Israel.
Dan Boutique is a good 3-star hotel. My only concern was that it was a little far from where the TBEX conference was being held. But the old city of Jerusalem is just 15 minutes by walk and I used to walk almost daily to explore that region. I also loved the massive breakfast spread they had at the hotel.
In addition, there are multiple other hotels and you can decide where you want to stay based on the ratings on Tripadvisor or Booking. Airbnb is also a good option in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Vegetarian Food in Israel:
You have multiple choices and you will definitely not starve if you are a vegetarian in Israel. Tel Aviv is slowly coming to be known as the vegan capital of the world and I was glad that I found so many options.
Is getting in and out of Israel a difficult experience?
I wouldn’t say it is difficult but it can be a major inconvenience as well as a time-consuming activity. In my case, I had to pass through multiple security as well as multiple immigration points while leaving Mumbai as well as when I was leaving Tel Aviv. If you have a normal lock, they will not allow you to lock your luggage and that is why I decided to use a TSA approved lock on the way back. They do check your checked in luggage as well as your hand luggage. This is time-consuming and you need to keep this in mind while factoring for time.
My flight from Bangalore was delayed by over 2 hours and I just made it in the nick of time at the check-in counter at Mumbai. Even before you check in, you have an immigration booth. Please be prepared to answer all questions and sometimes they repeat questions to ensure that you give a consistent answer. In my case, they were very interested in knowing why I had so many UAE stamps. When I told them that my sister lives there, I was asked many follow-up questions about both my sister and my brother in law. At one point, they even asked me the names of both my grandmothers.
All I can say is that keep all your documents ready and answer all questions honestly. In the case of security, they unpacked my entire carry-on luggage and examined all items, including the many electronics items I was carrying with me. ‘Don’t get intimidated’ is my only advice. Some people in our group took more than 2 hours to clear security.
How to get an Israeli visa for Indians?
I have already detailed in an earlier post on how to get Israeli visa for Indians.
SIM card and Wifi in Israel:
We were given a loaded SIM card (SimToIsrael) by our hosts and I was really pleased with the connectivity. It was definitely fast and I managed to do a few live videos using the same. Unfortunately, I was not able to call any number outside Israel and nor was anyone able to reach me from outside Israel. I have Indian parents and I guess they did not know that I have to check in with my mother from time to time. :p But fret not, wifi is there and I managed to Skype once in 2 days(time was the issue). I also used public wifi in the Airport and some of the train stations.
Weather in Israel:
I went in March and it meant that it is still quite cold in some parts. Tel Aviv was quite pleasant and I managed with a light sweater when I was there. Jerusalem was around 8 degrees centigrade most days and I wish I had packed a scarf. Death sea and Masada, on the other hand were quite hot in comparison and I guess that is one of the reasons I fell sick.
What to pack for Israel:
It was really cold and I had to pack accordingly. I didn’t do layers but there were people who had to because of the temperature. Also, make sure that you pack some conservative clothing for some places since you are required to dress modestly in some areas.
Booking Day tours or Renting Cars in Israel:
It is easier to be based in places like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Haifa and then take day tours to other parts of the country. Abraham tours run multiple tours and you can check out their website to find out more.
Additionally, you can rent cars and from what I heard from others is that it was actually quite cheap to rent cars. Finding parking is a problem though and you can end up paying up to 50 shakels per day just for parking. You can drive with your Indian driving license in Israel. But they ride on the opposite side of the road as compared to India. I would have loved driving here but I had already booked day trips through Abraham tours.
I guess I have covered most of the points that first timers have when they are planning a trip to Israel. All I can tell you is that it is a gorgeous country and prepare to be surprised by what this small country has to offer.
P.S: Happy birthday to me and my sister. We turn a year older on March 31st.