Do’s & Don’ts for travelling in Israel
- Do use local greetings: You are not likely to offend anyone in Israel by trying to use the country’s traditional greeting. Just as us Brits do not take offence to visitors from other countries saying “hello,” you are welcome to use the Israeli greeting “shalom” when you visit. It will help you blend in with the locals. The literal translation of the traditional greeting is “peace,” and it is used for both hello and goodbye across Israel. Hence it is often said Israelis do not know if they are coming or going!
- Do ask questions: Be curious about the places you visit. In Israel, there is a proud culture among its citizens. They enjoy talking about their country, the sites to see, the Jewish religion and even politics. You should not shy away from talking to locals about these subjects if you are in a conversation with a person who knows all about the area. There is no better way to discover the differences in Israel and your own hometown than this – and that is what you are there for.
- Do remember to drink plenty of water, especially during the hot season (June through November). At least 2 liters (1/2 gallon pp. per day).
- Do wear comfortable shoes and clothing (light layers); also a hat that will provide sun protection. Remember, in Israel, comfortable is “in”.
- Do download and use Waze for the best navigational guide available. It will guide you in English or Hebrew or whatever language your require and give you real time updates on traffic, accidents, speed cameras, and other road hazards and get you to your destination.
- Do make sure women in your group are wearing long sleeves and pants when visiting religious sites.
- Do remain patient (Savlanut) as sometimes things move slower than you are accustomed to but in the end it gets done.
- Do sample the food everywhere you visit. There is so much more offered than the traditional Israeli street food “felafel”! The Israeli food is really amazing and the Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world.
- Do indulge in Israeli made wines. They are really world class!
- Do agree on a fixed price for your destination before you enter a taxi. Drivers have a habit of adjusting the price for foreigners.
- Don’t forget sunscreen. Israel is a sunny place with a very high average daily U.V. rating. I recommend you bring your own..
- Don’t buy any non-Israeli made specialty products as they are likely to actually cost more than buying them in your home country and many times are cheap imitations.
- Don’t go anywhere without your mobile phone. It is relatively inexpensive and you can even call overseas. Buy a local sim card
- Don’t plan to return from the Northern Israel on a Saturday evening unless you are prepared to sit in traffic for a few hours. Also travelling to Jerusalem on Sunday morning is probably not recommended for the same reason.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle in the Shuks (open air markets). It is an expected part of the culture and if you don’t, you will likely overpay.
- Don’t wander around the Golan Heights without a guide. This is a very tenuous area especially now. There are areas near the Syrian border that you need to stay away from plus there are still live minefields, believe it or not, from past wars. Remember the Golan Heights was a battlefield for a long time.
- Don’t enter the sea in late June-July without first checking for jellyfish washed up on the beach. They are not deadly but can provide a pretty painful sting.
- Don’t practice your newly discovered Hebrew or Arabic curse words or hand gestures on the locals. Remember the culture here is different and you may really offend someone without intending to.
- Don’t wear your best bathing suit into the Dead Sea or Mineral Springs. It is possible that it may retain the smell of sulphur no matter how many times you wash it.
- Don’t go into the Dead Sea with jewellery on, you may have a big surprise when you find that that gold ring is not gold at all. Never get the water into your eyes and if you have heart problems do not enter the Dead Sea.
- Don’t smoke on Saturday: Smoking is bad for your health. Most people agree on that. But those who smoke might not realize it is also considered ill manners to smoke at certain times or in certain places in Israel. Of course, you will want to observe no-smoking signs wherever you are in Israel, but keep in mind that smoking is in direct violation of the “Shabbat,” a religious day observed on Saturdays in Israel. If you can refrain from smoking that day, that’s a plus. Otherwise, you should at least avoid doing it around religious places or in the presence of Orthodox Jews, who will find it offensive.
- Don’t dress inappropriately: Dress codes are pretty simple and are common sense in Israel, but there are a few rules you might not be accustomed to. Make sure you pack conservative clothes for visiting any religious sites. Men should not wear shorts or go without shirts around these sites. When visiting Jewish shrines or memorials, it is also proper for men to cover their heads. Often there will be a complimentary yarmulke, a small skullcap, available to visitors who need to cover their heads. Women should not dress in anything that exposes bare legs or shoulders while visiting a holy site.
- Don’t drink tap water: Drink bottled water, which is normally available on your tour bus or at supermarkets and kiosks. It is cheap and during the hot summers it is essential you drink at least 2 litres a day. Drinking tap water could cause you an upset stomach.
- Don’t extend a handshake to a religiously observant person of the opposite sex. Displays of affection are inappropriate in religious areas and displays of same-sex affection are not well received anywhere. On the bus do not sit next to an ultra-Orthodox passenger of the opposite sex. On ultra-Orthodox segregated busses, women must sit at the back.
- Don’t try to chastise people who cut into lines ‘just to ask a question’ or to pay for one item at the cash register. Take it in good humour. Use the same approach when it comes to being on time. Punctuality is not a priority for locals.
Tips for travelling in Israel
Israelis are disarmingly informal. Unless they are providing a formal service (such as hotel staff, doctors, or a religious official), they will immediately assume a first-name basis, and you can do the same.
If invited to Sabbath (Shabbat) dinner in an observant home, do not request milk products with a meat meal; refrain from smoking; check with the host before turning the lights on or off; silence your cell phone; bring a small gift; and, if you bring wine, make sure it is Kosher and do not expect the bottle to be opened the same evening.
Arrival and Departure
Israeli security checks are comprehensive, so be prepared for a potentially long wait at the airport. If you are of Arabic appearance, have stamps issued by Arabic countries in your passport or hold a Palestinian Authority identification number, expect to be questioned intensively and possibly detained. If you accept a parcel for a third party to take on the plane; you must open before the person giving it to you and you must declare it to the security staff at check in. Know your itinerary well beforehand and if you have a entry visa, ensure it covers all the entries e,g, if you are visiting Egypt or Jordan as well. Never joke with the security personnel.
Israel’s independence was in 1948 and since then they have suffered a few problems; hence yours and their security is paramount. Avoid public demonstrations and if you venture out alone tell people where you are going and what time you expect to return.
Bear religious holidays in mind when you’re planning your time in Israel to avoid inflated prices and poor or nonexistent service. In Jewish areas, shops close and public transportation stops running on Friday afternoon to observe the Sabbath, and does not gear up again until after sunset on Saturday. Many non-Orthodox Jews drive to parks or beaches on their day off, so the roads are likely to be busy, but don’t attempt to drive in ultra-Orthodox areas where the roads are typically closed. Alternatively, Israel’s Arab population observes the Islamic calendar, meaning the holy month of Ramadan is an important time for them. Held in late summer — the precise dates vary each year — Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast during the daylight hours, so you’ll find it difficult to eat out during the day at this time of year.
Negotiate in the East and not in the West! Which means half the fun of shopping in areas under Palestinian influence, e.g. Jericho, Bethlehem and East Jerusalem expect you to negotiate; not so in Israel.
There is no rule that active synagogues are not open to non Jews. They are open for prayer on Friday night – around sunset and again on the Sabbath from the early morning. Remember – men and women sit separately. Normally there is a ladies gallery.
In Arabic it is called Bucksheesh – something for nothing. It is widely given and also expected. Your guides, coach drivers, in a restaurant and taxi drivers. Deserving hotel staff should also be rewarded.
In order to avoid Israeli VAT do not pay for extras (drinks etc.) at your hotel as you have them, but charge them to your bill and pay with either foreign currency or a credit card, the latter of which are widely accepted in Israel.
You do not require any inoculations. But you should always ensure that your tetanus is up to date.
All major credit cards are accepted in Israel Tourist shops tend to price their products in US dollars. ATMS are easy to find.
Month Weather Cost Considerations January * Winter – cool expect rain Low season February * Winter – cool expect rain Low season – flights at half term maybe more expensive March Spring – getting warmer High season depending on when Easter and Passover falls April Spring – very pleasant High season depending on when Easter and Passover falls May * Spring very warm High season depending when Pentecost – Shavout falls June * Spring/Summer hot High season depending when Pentecost – Shavout falls July Summer – very hot High Season August Summer – hottest month High Season September End summer – very hot High season depending when Jewish New Year, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles falls October * Autumn – very pleasant – maybe a little rain High season depending when Jewish New Year, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles falls November * Autumn – very pleasant – maybe a little rain - cooler Low season December Autumn/winter – mixed weather Low season except for Christmas period for flights
* Popular months for pilgrimage travel