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Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

Las Vegas, Nevada
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Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

Hey, all you TripAdvisor people who are steeped in the knowledge of Israel! You know who you are: rdglady, shoshi, Oreets, davetheguide, mbgg, and so many more!

A little backstory here:

It has been my dream to go to Israel since I was a child. My father was Israeli (I say “was” because he died many years ago) and I have long felt a strong connection to the land because of family/religious/traditional roots. While I’m not very religious, my Jewishness is very important to me. Also, I’m an ardent supporter of Israel and have been studying its history and language for some years now.

I have never taken a trip in my life. Sad, but true. Money and time have always been an issue for me. So, I’ve been saving to go to Israel. It hit me last year that I need to finally commit to the trip for my 40th birthday - which will be September of this year. What a way to spend my birthday! Although, I fear that as soon as I get off the plane I’ll be overcome with emotion and just cry for days! haha.

You should know that I haven't booked anything yet, but time is running short. I need to plan/book this fast!

Here is my tentative plan: I’ll be in Israel for about a month. Beginning of Sept to the end. I want to do some kind of tour for the first 10 - 12 days. It will be structured and planned. Then, I want to relax and not have much of a plan in both Tel Aviv (mostly beaches) and Eilat. This will be 7 - 10 days. The last week (or so) will be with family (almost of all which I’ve never met... they are anxiously awaiting my arrival). They informed me that they would love if I were with them during the holidays. So, I believe I will be them from the start of Rosh Hashanah.

So, a trip in 3 parts: 1) tour 2) relax, explore on my own 3) family

It might seem I have things figured out. But, alas, after years of researching what to do, I’m more lost than ever.

You might tell me to search threads on here - which go back years - about all the possibilities to uncover. There are group tours with busses vs more intimate private group tours, day tours, and it goes on and on. I have researched everything. I don’t know if, at this point, I’m looking for someone to hold my hand and make all the decisions for me!

I am traveling by myself. Hence, a private tour - unless I could rally a group (which is not likely) - seems a little out of the question. I’d rather be with some people than just me and a guide/driver.

Many of the group tours are a little more than I want to spend. For example, Arza is out of my price range. After days of searching (after years of on-and-off searching), I keep going back to America Israel. They offer the same itinerary as most of the group tours and charge less.

Gate1 looked great, but booked up fast (which I saw happening last year, but took too long to commit to booking).

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the advice I’ve gotten from the tour company associates I’ve spoken to on the phone. For example: My initial plan was to do a 16 day group tour, which included Eilat (at the end of the tour). I was going to forfeit the last day of the booked tour and just stay in Eilat and continue my trip on my own. One woman at a tour company - not looking out for her best interest in a better sale - told me to just do a shorter group tour that didn’t include Eilat. I would save a lot of money if I just did Eilat on my own completely.

This changed my thought process. Now I’m leaning toward your basic Jewish Heritage Tour of 11 nights / 9 days. This tour doesn’t cover much (if anything) of Tel Aviv and doesn’t go to Eilat. This would seem perfect because I can explore both - especially Tel Aviv - with wonderful day tours.

But I keep reading that a private (or more intimate) group tour is the way to go. That larger group tours, like America Israel, are fast-paced (no worries, I’m young, healthy, active), with large busses, but there’s not much time to DO, just SEE.

I don’t want my FIRST trip (and the ONE of a lifetime) to be anything less than the best I can afford.

So, after reading a million posts on here, options have opened to me. That being said, it’s just made my decision that much harder to make. And, perhaps that’s my problem... there is no right / wrong answer. Any trip I commit to will be wonderful, I trust.

Let me give you an example of a DAY TOUR I found for Golan Heights (Gay Camel Tours):

"At the feet of Mount Hermon, we will enjoy the luscious Tel Dan / Dan reservation, which is one of the most important water springs in the land of Israel.

We will take a short hike to the amazing archaeological excavations of the ancient town of Dan (more than 2700 years old!), where we will connect the Biblical events to the exposed ruins. This is an example of exploring the history not only by hearing stories, but also by witnessing them in our own eyes.

Leaving the reservation, we will be taking a jeep ride and climb up to several observation points looking over the Jordan Valley. This will contribute to a deeper understanding of the Golan Heights and give you a few new insights about the area.

While driving along the Golan Heights, we will be able to talk about the history of this area, until we reach Mount Bental. There we will have a panoramic view of the Syrian side of the border in the east, while talking about the Yom Kippur war.

Starting our trip back, we will pass through Kazerin, the only Israeli town in the Golan Heights, and stop for a wine tasting.

The last adventure of the day is rafting on one of the major water sources of the Jordan River.

After such an exciting day we will head back to Tel Aviv and conclude our trip."

So, a hike, jeep ride, wine tasting, and rafting!

Contrast that with the itinerary of a large group tour (America Israel):

"We will then enjoy an exhilarating Jeep ride to the foot of the Golan Heights, then going up and stopping at an observation point over the almost entirely destroyed city of Quneitra and the Syrian territory. Tel Faher, a former Syrian outpost, is our next stop. There will also be an opportunity to explore the beautiful Banias waterfall and springs, an area rife with hiking trails. Next up is Tel Hai, the site of a pivotal battle between Arab rebels and the New Yishuv in 1920. We will also see the famous roaring lion monument, commemorating Josef Trumpeldor, among others who lost their lives that day. We will then return to the kibbutz hotel for Dinner."

Is this a good example of the contrast I spoke of: the day tour is a lot of DOing vs. the group tour is a lot of SEEing? I really don’t know. Maybe it’s hard to decipher by the itinerary description.

This also makes me think that I can be based out of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for what would be the group tour part of my trip and just book day tours every day. But would booking daily tours as opposed to one large group tour cost me more in the end?

Although, the thought of being with the same people on a group tour sounds nice, too. A bonding experience.

Also, I sort of want things figured out for me before I arrive. I’m happy to explore here and there, but not sure I want to leave much of my visit up to spontaneity.

I’ll stop there. As you can see, I’m all over the place!

Thank you all for reading my long rambling inquiry. I appreciate your time, attention, and any help you might impart!

Edited: 14 June 2014, 23:10
Arik Private Tours In Israel
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Haifa, Israel
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1. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

Since you have never been in Israel and you are so excited I strongly suggest to join an organized tour to learn and understand were you want to stay another period. Eilat you can do by yourself. Once you know the dates make sure to do reservation with Egged (bus company). www.egged.co.il/eng/main.asp…

Haifa, Israel
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for Jerusalem
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2. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

It does sound like joining a group tour for the first 10 days or so of your trip might work for you as then you will see all the 'main sights' without having to figure out everything for yourself, and it may work out reasonable in terms of time and cost for a single traveller. Another option is to tour independently but to take individual tours for some sights. This would require a lot more organizing but is do-able; if you want to tour the north independently you will need to hire a car as there is not very great public transport in this area; be aware though that car hire and gas are fairly expensive. Douglas on this forum has written a guide from his own experiences which might be helpful planning independent travel. In any case, you should consider having another base in the north for a few nights as it's not practical to travel backwards and forwards from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to tour this area. Some companies offer multi-day tours of the northern part of the country.

I would avoid taking too many single-day bus tours because from reports on the site, many of them spend relatively a lot of time picking up people from hotels, which limits the time for touring. It's really not time-effective, for example, to tour the Golan from a base in Tel Aviv.

Ottawa, Canada
Destination Expert
for Jerusalem, Galilee, Tel Aviv
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3. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

My opinion would be that you do a Jewish Heritage tour for the first 2 weeks. Yes, these go in larger groups, yes, you do a lot and see a lot but, you will get to see and learn more than you would on your own, will be with others with similar interests and you don't have to worry about anything as you get oriented to the country on your first trip. You can always find reasons to do the trip a different way, with smaller groups or day trips, for example, but tour groups can be a fantastic experience, especially for lone travelers and those without a lot of travel experience. Once you decide, don't second guess yourself. Following the tour, you definitely could spend time on your own in Tel Aviv and Eilat. It sounds wonderful to be able to spend the holidays with family. This really will be a trip of a lifetime for you!

Cincinnati, Ohio
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for Israel
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4. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

I agree with the above suggestions. While I vastly prefer independent travel personally, there are people for whom group tours are a better fit, and for your trip (or at least part of it), that may be true.

As Avigail suggested, if it would be of help in planning your trip, I would be happy to send a copy of a free, noncommercial guide to Israel travel that I offer to anyone who asks. It is a 59-page .pdf file; to get it, just write me at Labatt@fuse.net, and I will send it as a file attachment via return e-mail. And no strings -- I am not even in the travel business.

The guide is based on my own travel experiences and as said above, I am not in the travel business, so it does not purport to be all-encompassing or a substitute for a more thorough, comprehensive, and professional guidebook. For that, I recommend either Frommer's or Fodor's. It does have lots of hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as suggested itineraries and other information about Israel travel.

My offer goes to anyone reading this, by the way, but you must send me an e-mail, NOT a message on Trip Advisor, as I cannot send file attachments through that medium and will not copy and paste e-mail addresses over to my e-mail program. I get a lot of requests for this guide and this is not my job, so I hope you understand I need it done that way.

I hope that you have a wonderful visit!

Douglas Duckett

Tel Aviv, Israel
Destination Expert
for Israel
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5. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

A few observations about tours . . . Fast-paced doesn't necessarily mean walking fast. It could very well mean spending little time at each stop and seeing a lot as you whiz by on the bus. Don't count on a great rafting trip in September. There's not much water at the end of summer, so it will probably be a gentle float. One of the problems with big tours is the amount of time spent at each stop as 40-45 people collect their things and get off the bus, one by one and then waiting for all those people to get back on the bus.

Destination Expert
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6. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

Since you are a solo traveler, who seems to be all over the place and since you indicate you do not want to be alone, I agree--take the tour for first part. September is an interesting time. It is still warm, yet children are back in school, there is also no guarantee that your big bus will be full. It may not be!

Reading the two excerpts you posted, part is writing style too. Of course the large group is doing more things--BUT they are also not traveling back to Tel aviv at night, they are staying locally.

As others said, once you have taken the tour, you can see what you missed ( once you pick a tour, post a link and we'll look over the itinerary) or what you want to go back to in depth.

While usually we recommend that people not be in Israel for Rosh Hashanah, since you will be with family--that is very very different. That too will be a great experience--and don't be surprised if family aren't asking you to come as soon as the tour is over.

Las Vegas, Nevada
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7. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

I want to thank each and every one of you who responded. It was very helpful! I will no longer second guess myself and my decision (which I do too often) and just commit to the group tour for the beginning of my trip!

As I mentioned, AmericaIsrael is the company I'm leaning toward. That being said, if anyone knows a competitive company - monetarily - with similar itinerary, let me know. I couldn't find anyone beating their prices.

You will be hearing a lot from me through the course of my planning through my stay in Israel, I'm sure!

Destination Expert
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8. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

This year don't bank on rafting at all - we had a very dry winter and there is just not enough water. Right now most of the rafting places did not open for the season, or tried and then closed. The last I heard there was one still trying to make a go of it - but there is really not enough water and so you spend more time climbing out of the raft to push it off the rocks. My guess is they will close soon too.

Las Vegas, Nevada
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9. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

Thanks, Oreets. This is helpful to know. And sorry to hear there isn't enough water. Not for my trip, but for Israel in general.

10. Re: Israel Trip Help: Traveling Solo, Tours, and More!

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