Traveling to a new country can make anyone a little nervous. So I created this list ease your concerns and tell you what you need to know before visiting Israel.
Visiting Israel is perfectly safe. Despite what the news may have you think, Israel is a safe place to live and visit.
There is no denying that there are tragic terrorist attacks sometimes, however it is by no means a daily occurrence. In fact, I consider Israel over all safer than New York City – and I’ve lived in both for years.
Is it safe for women to travel alone?
Yes. Israel is very safe for woman in both big cities and settlements. Still, it’s best to practice the usual safety precaution.
Do not walking alone at night except in well populated areas, don’t hitch hike alone (hitch hiking is an accepted practice in much of Israel due to infrequent buses), and don’t be alone with anyone you don’t know and trust.
Please note, that I am only speaking about heavily populated Jewish areas. I cannot speak for Arab towns or cities.
Generally, these areas are considered less secure. So, I never travel to them and therefore cannot speak for them.
People Speak English
You don’t need to speak Hebrew while visiting Israel. Though knowing some key phrases couldn’t hurt.
In the big cities, like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it is incredibly easy to get away with speaking only English. In fact, it is not uncommon for immigrants who live in these cities can hardly speak Hebrew after years of living in Israel.
Outside of big cities most people speak a decent enough level of English too despite not being flooded with tourists and immigrants.
However, a mistake many people make is they walk up and start speaking to Israeli’s in English as if they are in the States. Please don’t do this. It is rude.
Instead, first ask if they speak English even though there is a strong chance that they do. Also, feel free to add in that you’re a tourist, this way they know that you may need clearer answers than a local would.
Soldiers, Guns, and Checkpoints
The thing that seems to me the most unusual to tourists visiting Israel, for good or for bad, is the fact that there are soldiers with guns everywhere.
What you need to know about this is that Israel still has a draft. Anyone at 18, unless they opt to do national service instead, is drafted into the military.
So, when you see soldiers with guns this is totally normal. These are just local kids going where they need to go. Here we have a soft spot towards them.
Another thing, though less common is going through a checkpoint. Checkpoints are only in specific areas and you probably won’t go through them. If you do, don’t worry about it.
The the checkpoints are just to make sure no one or nothing dangerous was snuck on board. It’s for your safety as well as the safety of Israeli citizens.
They are friendly
While visiting Israel you will probably notice that the people tend to be very friendly.
Israelis will often have no problem giving you free advice whether you asked for it or not, correct your Hebrew if they feel it will help, speak to you in English if they hear an accent, and speak their mind.
Even the older grough generation is usually just trying to help you while being pushy and telling you what to do.
They mean well so smile and thank them. If you didn’t find their advice helpful, then you can then disregard it and go do what you wanted to do in the first place.
What you need to understand is that in Israel, people treat almost everyone like family and that they are treating you like family too.
This may seem odd if you come from a closed off big city culture like New York or London. Israel is a very warm and welcoming place and the more rural you get, the warmer people become.
I can tell you countless stories of strangers showing me kindness just because it is their nature.
They are Happy
A number of studies found Israelis to be one of the happiest groups of people in the world. They are more family oriented and experience oriented than many other countries.
If you’re in Jerusalem you may even see religious people dancing to music in random locations.
(These people are followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev. They are called Nanach’s in English or Nachmanim in Hebrew. They believe deeply in being happy and the joy of Judasim.)
Seeing them happy and dancing makes me happy and feel inspired to be happier and live life fuller. I think that’s the point.
They are Open
Israelis tend to be pretty excepting, live and let live, kind of people. In big cities and little suberban areas the general feel is “you do you.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be respectful to their religious customs. Just because I can wear pants in a religious area doesn’t mean I will. Respect should come from both sides.
Rav Kav is the local public transportation card and you need it to get around since city buses wont take cash anymore.
If you plan on staying a while you can get a more permanent card from different hubs – there is one in the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. If not, you can buy one for 5NIS from a busdriver.
You can fill these at booth near some bus stops, light rail station machines, and in train stations by the teller or at the machine.
Buses going to rural areas, like the West Bank, the other hand take either cash or Rav Kav. If you pay in cash you get to pay half price.
Nowadays, this is pretty much the only reason I keep Cash on hand.
How to get off a bus
Buttons to get off the bus on intercity buses is usually red and located overhead by the reading lights and air conditioning.
On local buses, it’s usually a blue button, sometimes yellow, located on the metal hand bars you hold on to.
Since much of the country, especially soldiers, travel by bus local and intercity buses have places for luggage.
Local buses will have a space across from the back door where you can leave it or buckle it in. Wheel chairs and strollers also are usually brought here.
On intercity buses, there is a compartment under the bus which the driver will open if asked. This is where luggage, strollers, and other large things go.
If there is room on the bus they may let you take a carry on sized bag on the bus with you. However, don’t be surprised if they don’t when it’s busy.
Leaving your property in these places is perfectly safe and everyone does it. Despite my paranoia from years of living in New York, no one has ever touched my stuff.
However, make sure to place it in securely so it doesn’t fall off. If something falls off people always put it back on if they see it, but you don’t want to risk it on the off chance that they don’t happen to notice it.
Everywhere in major cities and most places outside of them take credit cards from abroad. This includes the bazaar’s and markets.
However, when you’re in more rural areas that don’t get many tourists places here and there may not.
For instance, supermarket near my family takes my American credit card but the gas station in between towns on that you find on the way doesn’t.
So, it is good to always have some cash on you when traveling, just in case.
Unlike Europe and Australia, you do give tips at restaurants in Israel. However, unlike the States, tip in Israel is only 10%.
Though, you are welcome to give 15% if you want to. I’m sure whoever your giving it to will really appreciate it.
It’s hot. Drink.
Water is essential. Israel is very hot for about 8 months out of the year.
You need to drink even if you don’t feel thirsty. You can easily get liters sized bottles for this exact reason.
You don’t want to find yourself in the hospital while on vacation because you got dehydrated. This has happened to more than one person I know.
Israel is an amazing place for kosher food culture, especially Jerusalem. It’s one of my favorite reasons for living here.
Here, we take our food and coffee very seriously. When someone asks you to meet up for a drink they mean at a cafe not a bar.
Seriously, when you meet up with someone, unless otherwise specified, it will be for a coffee or food.
Oh and contrary to popular belief Israeli food is not inherently spicy. You can choose to add spicy sauces to it if so desired, but you have to ask for it.
I have a whole post on must foods to eat in Israel.
Go to breakfast at a cafe. They have wonderful breakfast menus.
My favorite is the cheese and spread option served with whole wheat sourdough bread. It’s heaven on a plate!
Any other questions?
If you have any other questions about visiting Israel, leave a comment and I will answer it 😊