Israel Travel – Top 41 pro tips to ease your visit

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Israel travel tips
Travel Tips to Israel

1. The Sabbath hours

Do not arrive during Sabbath hours unless pickup is arranged for you. Public transport is almost non-existential during these hours. The trains and buses do not run. Community taxies called Sheruts may or may not run. Most of the shops remain closed. It’s even hard to find something to eat. The Sabbath is observed from Friday evening until Saturday sunset. There are other Jewish holidays too that are like Sabbath. So check the dates before you travel.

2. Security check at your departing airport to Israel

Israelies check everything even before you board the plane to Israel. I have seen this in Cyprus, Turkey, and Addis Ababa. I just let them do it and I never had any major hiccups with the security process. They are nice and sometimes they try to hit you up with a pleasant conversation to get from you hints about your motivation to travel to Israel.

3. Security check at Ben Gurion airport

The last time I traveled to home the officer at Ben Gurion asked me how long has I been in Israel and I told him three years. He then playfully said he would not let me go without having a conversation in Hebrew. I managed it with my mediocre skills in Hebrew. It was fun.

4. The mythical security check 1 kilometer away from Ben Gurion

If I want to go to Ben Gurion, I always take the train from somewhere in Tel Aviv. I usually go to the airport to travel to India or to pick up others. At the airport, I have never been asked a question other than the usual security checks inside.

Ah, once yes. There is a tree just outside the airport that a million birds flock in the evenings. They make the area very noisy. One day I was taking pictures of these birds and a security officer approached me to ask what I was doing. She seemed genuinely interested in the quality of the pictures I took in that low light conditions.

5. Getting an Israeli SIM is a breeze.

You pay some money and you get an Israeli number that you can use to call, text, and data. No complicated activation procedures or documentation. They don’t even ask you who you are. You can get a good plan for one month for around 100 shekels and if you need international calls that would be some money extra.

6. Israelis don’t know the routes – Moovit does.

Most of them don’t even know how to drive. They treat their cars like trash.

I once asked a guy sitting at a counter in a bus station to what bus I should take. He did not know. Instead, he gave me look as if why am I asking him. Usually, Israelis are helpful folks. Maybe he was having a bad day. So your best bet to survive the public transportation scene in Israel is to Install Moovit. Don’t rely on Google Maps. The bus timings and train timings on Google Maps are not accurate or up to date.

7. Keep the phone charged all the time

You need it for Moovit and for all kind of other reasons. Charging points in Israel are limited. However, if you have no choice ask anyone around. There is a very highly likely chance that you will get help in Israel. All you need to do is ask. I had a nice bus driver charging my phone for me when I traveled to Agamona Hula when the bus had no individual charge points near the passenger seat.

8. If you want to talk, sit far from the bus driver

Or you will be met with an irate bus driver. For some reason, Israeli drivers don’t like people talking near to them while driving. I think someway the noise distract them.

9. Israel is expensive

Israel is expensive. Period. I don’t buy anything in Israel unless it is absolutely essential. So if you are planning for a shopping vacation in Israel, please don’t do it. Do the shopping vacation somewhere else, compare the expenses with Israeli prices and donate your savings to any good cause.

10. Carry a 5-Shekels coin if you go to a supermarket

Shopping trollies in most Israeli supermarkets can only be detached from the lock by inserting a 5 shekel coin. You will get 5 shekels back when you put the trolley back in its position.

11. Drink plenty of water

Israel is a dry country. The weather here makes me feel thirsty every other hour. Keep drinking water. Nothing else. Water.

12. Install Waze – if you choose to drive in Israel

This should be true for most other countries as well. Israel has a very good community of users on Waze. So traffic incidents and deviations should get to you almost immediately.

13. Israel – The kingdom of cats

Cats, cats, and cats. You will see cats everywhere in Israel. They are used to being around people. So they are not very aggressive. They will come and ask you for food if they find that what you are eating is something they like.

14. Free Wi-Fi is tricky

Most free Wi-Fi hubs need you to do free registration and acknowledge their services. That’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is that the whole thing is in Hebrew. The buses and trains may or may not have Wi-Fi. The best bet for you is to have a data connection on your phone.

15. Israelis call you – instead of texting

I find it annoying. I am sure many others do too. But that’s how Israelis are. They will ring you up for every single thing. Better get used to it.

16. Keep change

You need cash in your hand. The cards do not work everywhere. Buses need cash or their card called “Rav Kav”. Some places do not accept cards for purchases below 20 shekels. For someone else, their card reader does not work. All kind of problems. It’s always good to have cash in our hands to get things done.

17. You can smoke anywhere

The only place I am not sure if they will smoke is their parliament. People smoke pretty much everywhere else. In the streets, in the universities, everywhere. I also need to check if they smoke in hospitals.

A Reddit user ender1200 pointed out to me the following.

“Unless you are outside in the open air, it’s illegal to smoke in public places. Pubs, restorants, university classrooms etc. are no smoking area. Sure the law might be unenforced in many places, but you better point out that even if people do this it’s still illegal.”

18. Bargain – ruthlessly bargain

I remember this guy from the central bus station in Tel Aviv from whom I wanted to buy a headset. He showed me a cheap headset and told me it will cost 200 shekels. I said I will pay 20. I was quite sure that thing does not even cost an equivalent of 20 shekels in India.  He went like “Ahh you are an Indian, cheap fellow.” I said yes, I don’t overpay for cheap goods and I left.

Most of the sellers will try to make you fall for them with their buttery sugary speech to make you pay what they want. Don’t. Just don’t.

19. Be careful with Taxi drivers

It’s the same story as the sellers I spoke about above. Get into their cab only after you reach an agreement with them on the price. I personally don’t use cabs unless it is absolutely necessary but I have stories from my friends where the taxi drivers tricked them to pay a higher price.

20. Hebrew – The language

Beyond the central areas of big cities like Tel Aviv or Haifa, it’s very difficult to find people who speak English. Most shop owners, bus drivers, sometimes taxi drivers, and all kind of people we usually need to get into a conversation do not understand English. Well, I don’t have a tip here, I just said so that you know.

21. Israel does not stamp passports anymore

Instead, they give you a separate slip for your entry and exit. So if you have any concerns about Israel immigration stamp on your passport they are no longer valid. Incidentally, your visit to Israel does not affect your chances to visit certain other countries.

22. Israel – at least in Tel Aviv – is Pro LGBTQ

Israel is a country with contrasting features. One of them is their acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Tel Aviv is known internationally for its LGBTQ scene. There are pubs and bars that are LGBTQ only. The gay pride parade in Tel Aviv is indeed one of the biggest in the world.

23.  The public transportation is slow – I think.

I am sure many will disagree but this is what I think. I live in Ariel. From here to reach Tel Aviv it will take one and a half hours so is the case with Jerusalem. Both places are around 40 kilometers away from where I am and I think one and a half hours is too much.

Pro Tip: If you see a thin and tall Affikim bus driver who wears a sports cap don’t get on his bus. He takes another half an hour to reach his destination. Chances are that with the next bus you will reach the destination before his bus arrives at the destination.

24. Don’t get into political discussions

Most of the Israelis are filled with high levels of nationalism. It’s highly likely that they have more data to prove their point than us. And they will do it with all their emotions. I did that mistake when I first came to Israel but I quickly learned from it. I still do it just to see my close Israeli friends freak out.  You don’t believe me? Try criticizing something about Israel.

25. The Israeli attitude

That brings me to my next point on the table. Israelis appear rude and bold. It may take some time for them to trust us, at least me, and when they trust they are the warmest people ever. I repeat Israelis appear rude. It may be because of their military training and all the conflicts that happen around them. But at heart, they are sweethearts.

26. Tip at bars and restaurants

Usually 10% to 15%. They call it a service charge. Even if you forget about it they will remind you about it and take it. No tips for taxis or other places.

27.  Nation of guns

There is no avoiding of the fact that you will see guns everywhere in Israel. You will see young boys and girls carrying guns inside buses, on streets, in universities, and in all kind of places. Just get used to it.

28. Try Hebrew – They like it.

Israelis are taught to like everything Israeli from their childhood onwards. They are super proud of their culture and heritage and they like and appreciate every single effort from our side to learn and speak their mother tongue. Basic Hebrew is enough and you can easily find it online.

29. Israelis are accepting

Israel is an immigrant nation. Jews from all corners of the world flock to Israel. Incidentally, you will meet people from all around the world in Israel. Together with them, they brought to Israel their cuisines, habits, and part of their culture back in their home country. One of the most visible proofs of it is the diversity of restaurants in Israel. Your tongue is the limit.

30. Dress code

Mostly, you can wear whatever you want. I have seen both extremes. But there are certain places in Israel that demand certain dress codes. For example, a visit to The Garden Tomb or the Church of Holy Sepulchre will need you to dress modestly.

31. Always check weather

Check the weather every day while you are Israel. Israeli weather can change anytime to anything; however, their weather prediction systems are pretty good and they almost always give accurate information. Israeli summers are really harsh. I always need sunscreen and minimum clothes. I hate thick shoes during the summer.

On the other hand, winter can sometimes be rainy and windy. Israeli umbrellas are a piece of joke. Don’t even try to buy one. Bring one from home if you are coming to Israel during the winter season. Otherwise, wear some rainproof jacket.

32. Be aware of the local news

Be aware of the local news and developments as it may bring about sudden changes in public transport or road deviations. Sometimes it may not be even safe to travel to certain regions.

33. Hostels are everywhere.

Hostels are the best bet if you wish to travel around Israel cheap. It costs less than 100 shekels per night in their dormitories. If you are not a person phobic of others these hostels offer you a decent place to sleep and get your stuff done. It’s also a great meeting place for fellow travelers like us. I have made great lasting friendships from some of these hostels.

34. Keep your passport always with you

Pro Tip

Be nice to the security officers. Tell them the truth.

Israel has many security checkpoints. If they see that you are foreigner they might ask you for your passport. But it’s okay there were many times  I was without a passport and they let me go. But there were others who had really terrible experiences where the officers asked them to get down from the bus and checked everything. It depends.

A Secret

If you are a man, cut your hair as Israelis do. It tricks the officers to think that you are an Israeli and they won’t ask you anything. I tried it many times and it works every single time.

35. Don’t drink tap water

Don’t drink. When I heat the water I get in my apartment I always see white speckles at the bottom of my pot. I don’t know what that is. Incidentally, I always buy bottled water for drinking and cooking.

According to a Reddit user ender1200, “Tap water is fine. The white stuff in the water is just limescale. Most of the water in Israel is coming from aquifers where it collects bits of the surrounding limestone. Limescale is perfectly safe to drink, in fact, bottled “mineral water” usually contain it.”

36. It’s a good idea to pack your food while you travel

For one thing, it saves money. Most of the hostels I mentioned above let you access their kitchen and cook whatever you want. Secondly, it may be a bit difficult to find good places to eat near major attractions. For example, when I visited the Gazelle Valley I found no shops around to buy even a bottle of water.

37. Protect yourself from the Sun

Israeli summers are harsh. Always wear sunscreen, a hat, and a sunglass. Even that won’t be enough. Just avoid being outside during hot days. Tel Aviv during hot days will feel like one hot sauna.

38. Power plug adapters

The switches in Israel are upside down. It freaks me out even now after 3 years. You may also need power plug adapters. You can get them easily but you will need them.

39. Doctors and hospitals.

Even if you have Israeli insurance it might take some time for you to get to see a doctor or your medical test done in Israel. One of my friends had a ligament sprain or something like that and it took her a week to get an appointment to do an MRI. My friend remained in distress all these days. Crazy. English speaking private doctors are a bit expensive.

At home, I had a similar complaint and I saw an orthopedic specialist within 10 minutes of my arrival at the emergency department without an appointment and an x-ray in 30 minutes, and MRI later in the same day. My pain was taken care of almost immediately.

40. Trains are great to travel

Israeli trains are peaceful, and great to travel especially if you are traveling long distances. The Tel Aviv – Haifa stretch is really beautiful.

41. They put hummus into everything they eat

Yes, that’s right. Hummus with bread, with rice, with chicken… the list goes on. They also eat hummus as a standalone food. Be prepared to see hummus with everything. I won’t be surprised to see someday coffee or tea with a flavor of hummus.

Do you agree with the list above? Or do you have specific questions? Let me know below.


Girish Kaitholil
I was born and brought up in India. I came to Israel in 2015 to start my Ph.D. at Ariel University. I am naturally intrigued by the history of places and how they became what they are today. When I came to Israel, I realized that such a comprehensive resource does not exist in Israel. I thought, why not, let's write it. One article at a time. That's what you will read here. I hope these stories will give you a vivid and intense experience of the places that you visit in Israel. Any edits or new information are always welcome. Thanks for reading.

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Jkshah
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Jkshah

All Isralis have been living hard lives over centuries hence you find Isralis hard nuts to crack . Try to read David Ben Gruen’s life history

David
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David

It was very interesting to read this for me, as an Israeli. I’ll add a few comments about some of the tips you’ve written: 2. Security check at your departing airport to Israel I suppose that depends on the airline. The only time I had to pass an additional security check was when I was traveling with El-Al. Also, in Germany flights to Israel depart from a separate terminal. In other cases, when I travelled with foreign airlines, I only had to pass through the usual airport security. 4. The mythical security check 1 kilometer away from Ben Gurion Seemingly,… Read more »

Jacob Share
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Great job compiling this. I laughed out loud when you mentioned the bit about treating cars like trash. It’s true. In many other countries, a car scratch will mean a trip to the repair shop automatically. Not here. Regarding the tap water- it depends. In 2019, most tap water in the center of the country (let’s say from Ashkelon to Haifa) is partly or completely composed of desalinated water from the Mediterranean. The problem with desalinated water in Israel is that it doesn’t contain calcium or magnesium or other healthy minerals, and the various government ministries have yet to decide… Read more »

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