Why add Israel to your Indie/RTW trip

  • There are few places in the world that have the historical significance as the sights of the Holy Land. If there were ever a contender for having coined the cliché "steeped in history," it is Israel.
  • Perfectly situated, Israel gives water babies a unique opportunity to soak in the Red, the Dead and the Med…seas, that is.
  • It’s near impossible to visit Israel and not rub shoulders with a wealth of different religious, cultures and traditions. There is no more authentic or captivating way to gain an understanding of the way of life and issues that has extended from the past into the modern day Middle East.
  • Find yourself in Thailand or Sydney and you’ll spend half your time tripping over other backpackers. Although Israel is set up for Indie travelers, it doesn’t see anywhere the number as other countries so you really can get off the well-trodden backpacking track.
  • Israel is a treat to travel through with a diverse geography (desert in the south and snowy mountains in the north) and a miniscule size (it’s smaller than the state of New Jersey).

Indie travel tips

With fewer backpackers compared to other countries around the world, it’s not difficult to have a genuine indie traveler experience in Israel.
  • You’ll be forgiven for barely notice the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv when you discover the food. Eat your way around the capital city not missing the humus and falafel in Old Jaffa, the olives and cheese in Carmel market and don’t leave without trying shakshuka, a divine combination of eggs in tomato sauce.
  • If there’s one thing we all love, it’s a freebie, and the free guided tour of Jerusalem is one you won’t want to miss. They are best used as a way to get your bearings and establish which sites you want to return to without the crowds. Do dip into your conscience for a tip for the guide.
  • Situated underneath a souvenir shop in Nazareth is recently discovered Roman baths. Thought to date back to the time of Jesus, for a small fee the owners will provide a guided tour of the baths that are still being excavated.
  • Prepare for diminishing transport as you head further north in Israel. You’ll realistically need a car to get around so recruit other travelers to share the cost.
  • Don’t miss out on a visit to Palestine. Check local advice before travel, and take your passport and Israel Tourist Visa to get through the checkpoint, but Bethlehem and Jericho are usually safe to visit and offer the chance to see this stretch of the Middle East from yet another perspective.

Overview

Follow the media too closely and you’ll possibly never visit Israel, which would be a shame as you can barely turn a corner without tripping over something of historic significance or an impressive natural phenomenon like the Dead Sea. The Holy Land is treasured by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, and this has prompted more than average levels of conflict, but trouble usually only arises in isolated spots, and on the whole the country lives a daily existence of peace.  The country is jam-packed with sites that stretch back millennia and can be traveled at pace thanks to its relatively small size. Few indie travelers have Israel on their itinerary, meaning you can get close to local life without having to fight for elbow room to gain a genuine interaction. But, be warned. This tiny slice of a country is not cheap, so if it’s at the end of your trip, make sure you’ve enough shekels to spare. If you are truly interested in visiting, then don't take the sensational stories and hyperbolic travel warnings too seriously. This is a country with a few difficult spots, but it's mostly filled with peaceful citizens of every background and tourists who are glad they came.

What to do

There are nearly uncountable historical and archaeological sites to discover for yourself and tour in Israel. There's Jesus' hometown, Nazareth, the ancient site of Hazor, Belvoir Castle, Caesarea, and the Israel National Trail, a path that can be hiked or biked through Israel for nearly 500 miles. One of the classic experiences of Israel is to float in the Dead Sea. The water is so concentrated with salt that floating is effortless. Check for paper cuts before you enter, however. For more in depth information on what to do in Israel, check out the article Why Israel and the Palestinian Territories Should Be on the Backpacking Trail.

Transportation

A long list of countries will deny you entry if they see that you've been to Israel. Get a passport stamp on a separate piece of paper or a post-it note instead of your passport. Read more about border crossings and passports here. Otherwise, getting to Israel is just a matter of booking a flight to Ben Gurion International Airport and arriving early enough that you have time to negotiate your way through the security checkpoints before your plane takes off. For more information on getting around once in Israel, read the Beds and Buses section of Why Israel and the Palestinian Territories Should Be on the Backpacking Trail.

Accommodations

Lodging is no problem in Israel, many three and four star hotels are available for travelers, as well as places on the couches of local houses, hostels and international resort hotels, depending on your budget. For more information on accommodations in Israel, read the Beds and Buses section of Why Israel and the Palestinian Territories Should Be on the Backpacking Trail.

JO FITZSIMONS, author of this page, put this small part of the Middle East on her itinerary in 2011. Traveling south to north she encountered the usual sights and some not so usual, including the deserted streets of Tel Aviv during the holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. Thanks to the people, the culture, and the sights, Israel made it firmly onto Jo’s ‘must return to’ list. Jo is a former lawyer turned freelance travel writer with her head in the clouds and her feet in the sand. Although she is originally from England, home these days is wherever she lays her backpack. When Jo isn’t racing around the world and embroiling herself in misadventure, steam can be found flying off her keyboard as she tries to get her travel experiences immortalized into words. For Jo’s travel adventures, inspiration and advice, check out her blog Indiana Jo.
  Photo credits: Lux Moundi