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