I am lucky that I get to travel a lot. I get to see a lot of places, some that I love and some that I just like. When I got invited to Israel from Vibe Israel, I immediately said yes. I have always been interested in visiting Israel and want to share why I was there and my Israel itinerary.
So, who are Vibe and why did I go? Vibe Israel are a non-profit non-political company that are working to change perspectives on Israel from people who are on the outside and haven’t visited. It’s often seen as dangerous and too conflicted to visit. Many people don’t have it on their bucket list.
A group of 5 “influencers” were invited on this boutique tourism press trip. I was luckily one, along with another two travel bloggers Trisha from PS I’m On My Way and Vaughan from Journey Manuel who I met in Istanbul back in February. There was one journalist from NYC, Mo, and two Instagram influencers: Before I Die and Mindy the Lion, who are dating and from Vancouver. They hope that we can share our experiences whether positive or negative in Israel with our readers (you guys!).
photo via Matanya Tausig
It was a work trip and the itinerary was nothing that we had a say in- like most media/press trips. Here was our itinerary: Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Akko, Golan Heights, Tel Aviv. Before going, I had read a lot of blog posts about how Israel really inspired people and made them see the world differently.
I had been to the Dead Sea previously, and thought that Tel Aviv was going to be like any other city so I wasn’t expecting too much when I went into this trip. Maybe that’s why it blew me away as much as it did.
I didn’t meet a single person I didn’t like (and I met a LOT of people)… and the people there are what made Israel a place that I can say right now is my new favorite country.
Arrival in Israel / What to Expect
Straight from the Tel Aviv airport on arrival, I headed to Jerusalem. It was the middle of the night and I fell asleep in the back of the taxi, waking up at my hotel. I didn’t see anything until I opened my windows in the morning.
I didn’t know what it was going to be like and immediately popped out of bed to explore (with my new camera!) and take in all the sights. The first thing I noticed, I think because I live in India, is how girls are “allowed” to dress (I am using allowed as in this is how girls are meant to feel). Here, they were wearing anything from short jean shorts and tanks to little skirts. Traditional Jewish people who dress in all black with hats and hair covers mingle in and it’s like a melting pot of cultures.
Another thing I noticed which I was naive to is that it’s not all Jewish here, it’s Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, and all kinds of religions.
I thought it would be strict, maybe no booze. Definitely no couples showing PDA. But turns out Tel Aviv is one of the top party cities in the world. In fact, Tel Aviv is considered a global gay capital with a huge gay pride parade tens of thousands of foreigners come here for. It’s a tolerant thriving multicultural country from what I’ve seen.
I think because of the complex wars that have happened and still happen on the borders of Israel, I assumed it would be all Jewish people in Israel. It’s not! You might have already known that though and I’m just behind the times ;)
Flying El Al Israel
I flew with the Isreali airline from Mumbai. They are very extreme in their security. If you know anything about the issues Israel goes through then you can probably understand why. As I travel a lot and carry two passports, I was questioned heavily before getting my boarding pass by the security team. They are trained psychological interrogators according to reports I’ve read. While it was difficult to be questioned so heavily, to still be denied boarding at the departure gate – only to be questioned again once the gate had closed (was let on only just before departure), you sure do feel safe on these flights. They actually have defense missiles built in, and always have two air marshalls on board, who are usually in plain clothing. They watch people at the gate prior to boarding as well. So, this is something to keep in mind as not all airlines can fly in and out of Israel. If you are flying El Al, and are a single woman especially, then I suggest that you arrive an extra hour ahead of time at the airport as it’s not their problem if you miss your flight.
Leaving I flew easyJet and was barely questioned. I did have a VIP service at arrival and exit from Israel through immigration, thanks to Vibe. They gave me security clearance letters, personal invitations, and copies of itineraries. All together I had 6 documents, one in Hebrew to show immigration and it was fine. Journeying alone, I am not sure if this will be the same for everyone.
Do they stamp your passport?
This is a biggie for some. They do NOT stamp your passport anymore when you fly in and out. They give you a paper you need to keep in your passport as an entry stamp, then a paper as an exit stamp you need until you reach your next destination (outside Isreal). Then you can ditch these, as I did in UK.
You may know that if you have an Isreali stamp in your passport you cannot travel to some Middle Eastern countries at all, and others make it more difficult. With these papers, there is no evidence you have traveled to these places.
When you cross by car/foot at the borders, they do sometimes stamp your passport.
Let’s talk about safety & conflict…
So of course, I need to make a mention of safety as there are often alerts or State Department warnings to avoid certain places in Israel. While the Gaza Strip and West Bank are listed as not to be visited in any circumstances as a tourist, it can also be noted that Golan Heights are not recommended and even Jerusalem when it is at times of tension.
We did visit Golan Heights, which borders Syria and I will share more about that in another post. They told us of missiles you can watch falling over Syria from the place we were standing, and you could see black burn marks on the ground from mortar shells which landed on the Israel side accidentally.
We couldn’t walk around openly here as everywhere was covered in signs for mines which were buried here by Israelis in order to keep the land. There were anti-tank trenches, tanks stationed and abandoned, and other signs of conflict. Our driver actually pointed out a house on the Syrian side and claimed it is currently occupied by Al-Qaida while the other houses were full of rebels in hiding, which “Assad is bombing every other day for the last 5.5 years”.
The border is now closed there, but the UN is still stationed, as we saw when we drove past. We weren’t there to see war of course, it was to go to a winery. Yes, a winery. Because Israel is still a country no matter what is happening with their neighbors and on their borders. People have kids, go to school, get married, have parties, and live their lives to the fullest. I however didn’t grow up in Israel and don’t know this conflict well, so it was definitely a moment of eyes wide open, taking in everything, and a lot of “wow” thoughts.
While in Israel, it seemed clear that Golan Heights is part of Israel, then I see an article that says the U.S. does not consider Golan Heights a part of Israel. It’s complicated.
I’m not the type to worry, and in this case didn’t think about safety even once. The vibe in the air was so upbeat and happy you didn’t feel like you were in place which had tension- although it does. While there, the news reported 6 attacks in just 4 days. There was a stabbing in Jerusalem’s old town. Apparently, this hasn’t happened in about a year but there was a “surge” of sorts.
While we saw it in the papers, it wasn’t something you can “feel” in the air. I think that people in Israel live in a state of conflict their whole lives, with 18 year olds both male and female being made to serve in the military (unless married, Orthodox, Muslim, or a few other reasons), and having to go into a bomb shelter being nothing shocking to them (although saddening). Because of that, this is why I think the city still feels safe and life goes on like normal when attacks do happen.
Obviously, it affects their lives long-term as they are constantly living in a state of conflict with their neighbors and short-term if someone they know is injured or killed. I think people picture those in Israel always on edge, always worried, but my point is to share that you don’t feel the tension even if it’s there behind the scenes.
It’s up to you to make decisions on where you should travel. There are times when Jerusalem is considered risky and you should in this case trust the judgement of the State Department or travel advisories of your country.
I’m not going to go into who is right and wrong in terms of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, any of their other enemies, or who should have territory. It’s too complex and being there a week doesn’t give me the insight I would need to fully understanding the issues involved. There are SO many different moving parts and so much history involved. The reason Vibe Israel doesn’t talk politics is because they want to show that Israel is more than that, and they believe that it is difficult to explain a situation without having at least a little bias from either side.
I’m going to be writing blog posts about where we went and what we did (once I sort through 1000 photos).
We were in Jerusalem first which was just a 40 minute drive from the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. We spend a couple days here and I arrived a night early so I had a day to explore before the trip started.
Next we took a tour to the Old Town of Jerusalem and to the Dead Sea, this was a day trip and we stayed in our same hotel in Jerusalem.
photo via Matanya Tausig
Next we went to Golan Heights which is NE and the area that borders Syria.
Akko (Ako, Acre) was our next destination which is full Mediterranean vibes and probably my favorite place on the trip.
We ended in Tel Aviv exploring the different areas of the city which is now my favorite city in the world! I had so much fun and can’t wait to share about what a kickass city Tel Aviv is.
Map for Israel Itinerary:
Why Visit Israel?
Because of the tension and conflict, you might ask why risk visiting when there are other places in the world to visit. That’s fair enough. I felt truly sad when I left Israel and wished I had more time, which is not always my feeling after a press trip (they are work even if it doesn’t look like it).
Isrealis are people who have had struggle in their lives in the past and continue to live in a state of defensiveness. They have used that determination and struggle to become incredible successful entrepreneurs. Did you know that second to Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv has the most startups? Intel and Celeron chips are developed and made here, the first mobile phone, and they are the best in the world at recycling water (a technique they are currently selling to California). A lot of apps come out of Israel and we met many app creators while here. A couple you may have heard of are Waze (sold to Google) and Viber.
I loved the people, the food, the vibes. It’s 5,000 years old and the history dating from Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, and Napoleon makes for incredible stories.
This is a land that many people want to claim, and it’s as small as New Jersey. Because of the history, the monuments, the things that have happened here make this a holy and sacred place to many religions.
This is where Jesus was believed to be crucified on the cross and buried, only to rise again (at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), it’s where he walked on water at the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea is accessible from here. The seaside cities have surfer vibes and Tel Aviv is referred to as the Mediterranean Berlin because of it’s edgy laid back vibe and party scene.
I hope that one day there can be peace in Israel and all the religions and neighboring countries all come to agreements but in the world we live in, it’s not something I can imagine.
You will see peeks into my trip over the next month on the blog (or two) and I hope that it inspires you to visit. Israel is definitely my new favorite country. I’m not the best writer which you probably already know if you read my blog regularly so I hope I can do this place justice and try to explain how it made me feel because it really was the most incredible trip.
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I was in Israel hosted by Vibe Israel, a non profit, non political company. Thanks Vibe!
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