As of October 2018, we have been to Israel four times. That does not make me an expert by any stretch, but it does give me a little valuable assurance and a few recommendations I can share with any who would like to explore the Land without the expense of an organized tour and guide.
Traveling internationally is NOT as daunting as most would have you believe. Yes, there are challenges, but those are easily overcome in Israel due to several factors: most places you can quickly find help from someone who speaks English, most road and travel signs are in English as well as Hebrew and Arabic, and the nation as a whole is much, much safer than the media tends to portray.
Many who are concerned or want a ‘full service’ experience will pay $2500 to $4000 US for a 9-12 day experience. They will spend a great deal of time getting off and on buses while being whisked from one hotel to the next and they will see many sights at the fastest pace the guide can walk. If that is what you want, then that is fine. This page may not be for you.
If you would prefer to experience the country, the sights, the people at your own pace and for less money over a longer period of time, then maybe I can help.
After four trips to Israel with family members, none of them with a tour group (though we have hired a guide for a day or two on a couple occasions), and, having driven a rental car all over the country on each trip, I can safely say that you have options!! Search this blog for ‘Travel’ and ‘Israel’ for a number of posts regarding our many visits and adventures. These may give you some ideas…
You will need a passport with more than six months of eligibility on it upon arrival in the Land. In other words, the expiration date on your passport must be MORE than 6 months AFTER your expected exit date. You will be given a visa upon arrival. In most cases, your baggage will go through extensive inspection, likely without your knowledge, before you board your last leg into Israel. Therefore, checks coming into the country are quite minimal once you get to Ben Gurion.
There are many choices beyond simply booking a hotel through Expedia or the like. We have used hotels at times but have also used an AirBnB home on, or for part of, three trips. Another option is to get on the Grapevine mailing list and watch their email for opportunities. Or, our personal favorite that we’ve used several times is Tzemach in Giv’at Ye’arim, a community just outside of Jerusalem. While he has multiple residences in varying sizes and capacities, we have used this one several times. Please tell him that I sent you. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org , his secretary speaks/reads English. Tzemach most only speaks.
Another inexpensive option many of our friends have used is the Hostels in Israel. Among the more famous are the two Avraham hostels, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Just search the web for ‘hostel’ and ‘Israel’ to find options.
Public transportation in Israel is very good, cheap and getting better with a high speed train from Ben Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv and to Jerusalem having just opened. VERY cheap to get from the airport to Jerusalem or several stops along the way. Most hostels in Jerusalem are walking distance from Central Station and little additional transportation is needed unless you choose to see things outside of Jerusalem proper. But, again, the buses and rail are cheap and easy. No car needed.
Car rental is quite reasonable. Usually you will pay $8-$15/day plus required insurance that likely will double the price. Mileage is usually unlimited. Fuel is about $2 per liter or $8 per gallon, though most cars are very fuel efficient. I do HIGHLY recommend the Waze app for your phone before going. Easy and very accurate program to help you get around.
Sights and Tours
Very few sights require a guide. Many have self guided recordings and English movies, etc. While there are some details you may need to research and dig out yourself, having a guide, while valuable, is an option. A guide can run $300 to $500/day. In a group setting, this can be divided into a reasonable amount. In smaller groups, you may choose only hiring a guide for particular sites like the Western Wall tunnels, etc.
Traveling on your own allows you to see what YOU want to see and to spend as much or as little time as YOU want to be there. Tailor the sights to your interests.
You can save a great deal by simply preparing many of your own meals. Restaurants can be expensive. Yes, we visit a few because we like good food, but we tend to prepare most of our own meals and eat lunches at falafel and swarma stands. Fresh fruits, veges and other items are plenteous at roadside stands and markets as well as the big shopping centers like Rami Levy.
Dare to explore…
I may add more basic info here, but my purpose is not to be comprehensive. That would require pages and pages. My goal is to simply share a few tips and contacts along with the confidence necessary to take a leap and enjoy Israel in a very personal way!