Ever feel like you are just too
poor, broke, invested elsewhere to travel for fun? Been there. Let’s see, we need to eat, we need to pay the rent and we need to never wear anything we bought in the 90s. So travel gets pushed off to some nebulous time in the future when “we’ll be able to afford it”. When is that happening?
Over the years, I have managed a few trips to Israel on a serious budget. I got the cheapest tickets I could find, used travel points, begged relatives I barely know for a bed and one summer - when I went for a few weeks - managed to do a house swap. During that epic trip, I got plane tickets with air miles. Since I didn’t have to pay for accommodations, my expenses were only what I did in Israel and um, what I bought. So here are some of my tips and thoughts on how to) go to Israel, have a great time, and not break the bank.
Money. So I know this seems obvious. Spend less money and you will have more money. Thanks Mom. Also, if you eat less calories you will lose weight, but I digress. Back to the money. It’s super sweet to hand over a dollar and get almost 4 shekel back. It sort of makes things in Israel seem really, really cheap. 40 shekel for a drink? That’s just 10 bucks. Oh wait - a 10 dollar drink is actually quite pricey. Because I am constantly subtracting money, I find I am easily dismissive about cash flow in Israel. A relative in Israel once told me to treat a shekel like it’s a dollar. And also to eat and drink where Israelis do. The tourists eateries are always going to be more expensive (because they know you think everything in Israel is free). The locals know where to get a really good shwarma for less. My everyday lunch - fresh pita with hummus and Israeli pickles.
Cities. If you walk a lot, not only will you save tons of money, you will also get to really experience a city. Also, I think a good rule to live by is that if you walk all day, you can eat whatever you want. It’s just logical. The cities in Israel, specifically Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Safed all have ancient sections with cobblestone streets. You can wander around all day and not get bored. Often you can find free walking tours that the municipalities run if you like that kind of thing.
Markets. There are many colorful, lively open air markets all over Israel, each one with its own vibe. Machane Yehuda and the Old City Shuk in Jerusalem. Shuk Hacarmel and Nahalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv. There’s also the Jaffa Flea market and the Acco market up north, just to name a few. Ok, so it’s not free if you buy stuff. But you will probably not be buying anything too pricey here. I bought a dress in Machane Yehuda for what amounted to approximately $5. That I actually wear. The markets are also great places to get inexpensive thoughtful gifts for the folks back home who are sitting with their phones, anxiously waiting for you to post your Israel pics on Instagram.
The Beach. Best free activity ever. What is more vacation than lying on the beach? And it’s free. Whether you are in Eilat, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Netanya or anywhere else along the coast, just stretch out your towel and relax alongside the blue waters of the mediterranean. (And come back really tan, so that everybody can enviously be like: “Where did you go?!?!”)
The Holy Places. So most of these don’t charge an entrance fee. The western wall, the many holy graves - you can go to almost all of them for free. In Israel, they don’t charge for inspiration. Just falafel.
Museums. The state run museums are free. Like Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum and the #2 travel destination in Israel after the Western Wall. Ben Gurion house in Tel Aviv - a small house, once the home of David Ben Gurion and now a really cool museum - is another example. There are are also some museums that only charge a nominal fee like the Negev Museum of Art in Be’er Sheva which costs NIS 15 (around $4). Bonus at this particular museum are free outdoor concerts in the courtyard during the summer. Also look out for one day in Spring when all the museums in Jerusalem are free.
Check out the festivals. There is always something crazy going on in Israel. If you are in Tel Aviv on the first friday in July you can participate in Tel Aviv Water War which is exactly what it sounds like. The biggest water fight ever. I’m not kidding. They plan to make the Guinness Book of World Records this year. Or check out the three day dance festival in Karmiel in the north. Or the Israeli Soccer team’s free games whcih happen on the beach in Netanya, on Fridays in the summer. The Bezalel art fair in Jerusalem in the spring. Tel Aviv has a city wide Rollerblading route one night a week that about 300 people participate in. And the list goes on. There are usually free concerts of different genres all over Israel, mostly in the spring and summer months.
Getting around. Walking is cheapest. Gas, or petrol as they call it, (cue british accent) is very expensive in Israel. Many Israelis prefer not to drive. This is due to the expense but also due to the fact that Israel has an excellent public transportation system. You can get a rav kav (a metro-card like ticket that you can preload) and travel all over Israel with it. Jerusalem also has a great train that runs along Yaffo street and plans are in the works for a similar line in Tel Aviv as well as a high speed rail connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The main point here, is don’t think a trip to Israel is out of reach, or that if you manage to scrape together enough money for tickets, you are going to wind up not being able to do fun stuff in Israel. It’s actually the opposite. Being on a budget will probably force you to be more creative about what you do on your trip. You will also find yourself doing more local type activities which will give you more of the flavor of Israel than anything else could.