My Travel Tips
Israel has an extensive network of buses run by several different companies depending on the area of service. Bus service can be somewhat confusing to American visitors. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Duplicate line numbers – Sometimes two different lines, from two different companies will share the same number. Make sure you have the correct line number as well as bus company.
- Make eye contact with the driver – If you are standing at a bus stop and the bus is approaching, don’t assume it will stop automatically. The driver will often be scanning the bus stop to see if anyone looks like they want to get on. If you don’t make eye contact with the driver and signal for him to stop, he may very well assume nobody is waiting for his line, and pass you by.
- Baggage – Almost all buses between cities have a baggage compartment under the bus. The driver will not necessarily open it automatically. If you need it open, approach the driver and ask him to open it.
- Payment – Within a city, you can pay cash on the bus for your travel. The driver will make change. Between cities, you can usually pay cash on the bus as well. Some lines that go very far (Jerusalem to Eilat for example) require that you purchase a ticket in advance at the bus station.
- Don’t be loud on the bus – Americans tend to talk more loudly on their cell phones in public than Israelis. If you speak loudly on your phone on the bus, you may get shushed. Don’t forget many Israelis use the bus as their form of commuting to and from work. The bus ride is an opportunity for them to catch some rest.
To plan your route by bus, try this website. Bus.co.il
I have also recently been playing with an app called Moovit which will actually plan your route for you based on your location and destination, but you need to know some Hebrew to use it properly.
There are several companies in Israel that will rent you a cell phone or SIM card for your phone for your use in Israel. Most of them will offer you several options such as mailing the phone to you in advance of the trip, delivering it to the airport or your hotel. You can also rent something called a MyFi which is a little egg sized device that broadcasts WiFi internet so you can get on the internet with all of your devices.
I like to recommend a company called Nes Mobile for these services. In my experience, they are the most ethical company, with no hidden fees and very reasonable prices. So far, every guests I have recommended to them has been thrilled with them.
Contrary to what you would think, I do not suggest changing your money at a bank in Israel. They will usually charge you high fees and give you a poor rate. Licensed money changers are plentiful in major cities in Israel. They will give you a much better exchange rate than the banks.
If you’re like me, this one is super important! Standard American drip coffee just isn’t a thing in Israel. In fact it’s pretty much non existent except in some hotels. So if you say, “just give me a coffee” they will have no idea what you want.
What you will find in Israel are espresso based drinks like espresso or cappuccino. You will also find instant coffee -“nescafe” or Turkish Coffee -“Cafe Shachor”.
If you want to closely approximate a typical Starbucks type coffee, order an “Americano” with an extra shot of espresso. Or just ask for an “Americano Chazak” – strong Americano. This is a double shot of espresso in a large cup of hot water.
In the summer I personally love to drink iced coffee. But in Israel if you order “Ice Cafe” what you will get is a kind of coffee slurpee with a lot of milk and sugar. If you want actual iced coffee order a “Cafe Kar” which means “cold coffee”. You’ll get espresso poured over a cup of ice.
There are a couple of things that often confuse tourists when filling up in Israel.
First of all check your rental car to make sure it uses regular gas (called “benzine” in Hebrew). Many minivans and SUVs in Israel use Diesel (called “solar” in Hebrew). If you accidentally put gasoline in a diesel vehicle, it will cost you a LOT of money to repair.
Most gas stations in Israel will only allow you to charge up to 200 NIS per day on any given card. If you need more, you will have to provide two cards or go to two different gas stations.
If you don’t read Hebrew, you won’t be able to understand the instructions on the pump so it’s best to just go in and ask for help. The charge for full service in Israel is just slightly more per liter than for self service so don’t worry about it.
High speed internet is available in all parts of Israel. Most hotels charge to use the WiFi in their lobbies and rooms. Most cafes have WiFi available for their customers.
If constant internet access is important to you, I would suggest renting a “MiFi” for the duration of your trip. A MiFi is a little, egg sized device that broadcasts internet like wireless router. You can keep it in your pocket or wherever you like and all of your devices will be able to receive internet via WiFi. You can rent one of these from Nes Mobile or several other providers.
Kashrut is much more complicated in Israel than in the US. Many restaurants and products in Israel are certified kosher by the Rabbinate of the city or region. This certification may be standard or “Mehadrin” (Glatt). In addition, there are dozens of private organizations that certify restaurants, hotels, etc.
Each community has its own standards and lists of which Rabbinates and which private organizations it accepts. For this reason, if Kashrut is important to you, I recommend that you check with someone in Israel who is knowledgeable about these matters. I also recommend that you check out Jerusalem Kosher News for more info about Kashrut in Israel.
Power in Israel is 220V/50hz. Also the outlets are shaped different that in the US. There are two kinds of converters you may need depending on what you are converting. If you are plugging in a laptop, cellphone charger, iPad charger or similar device, you will probably only need a converter that adapts the shape of your plug to fit the Israeli plug. You will probably not need to adapt the actual current.
To be sure, look at the small writing on your plug. If it says “Input 100-240V” that means that it is already made to accept a range of different power levels and it will work with the simple adaptor. Such adaptors should cost about 5-10 Shekels. Also the desk at your hotel will most likely have them available to borrow.
If it only accepts 110-120V you will need an adaptor which is a transformer as well. Check to make sure you purchase the right one to work with the amount of power your device uses.
Do not use transformers to plug in any kind of device that creates heat, such as an iron, toaster oven, hotplate etc. You will need to purchase such items in Israel.
The situation with public toilets in Israel is improving all the time. Most major cities have public toilets around the city. Also, all major tourist sites have them. Every gas station in Israel is obligated by law to have clean, free public toilets. In most cases they do.
It’s not at all uncommon for public toilets to charge a shekel or two.
I highly recommend that you keep a roll of toilet paper with you wherever you go in Israel, since it is not uncommon for the restrooms to be out of paper.
PRO TIP: Pull the cardboard tube out of the roll to make it easier to fit in your bag.
I highly encourage you to use an Israel based travel agent to book your rental car. A local agent can find you the best deal on the right car for you often significantly less than booking directly online. Besides that, you will have an English speaking advocate to help you negotiate anything that may go wrong.
There are several rental car companies who provide consistent good service. There are others who are notoriously horrible (that’s not an exaggeration).
I have a couple of great, native English speaking travel agents who I work with who can get you a great rate on a car from a reputable company. Contact me for more info.
There is 17% value added tax (VAT) on goods and services in Israel. This tax is almost always already included in the price. In theory, you as a tourist, are exempt from this tax when making certain tourism purchases like booking hotels or purchasing at some souvenir shops.
Make sure that you get your VAT exemption when you pay for your hotel. You will need to present your passport with the visa slip provided at the airport. The same thing for rental cars.
There are some gift shops that are certified by the Israel Ministry of Tourism to give you a VAT refund slip on purchases over 100 USD. When you purchase at a certified store, you will be able to fill out a form and get it stamped for your VAT refund. This only works for purchases over $100 at certified merchants. At the airport there is a desk where you will show your receipt, stamped form and THE ACTUAL ITEMS. Do not pack these items in your luggage. They should be kept in your hand luggage along with the special VAT form to show at the airport.
Bus Drivers: If you are part of a large group tour it is appropriate to tip the bus driver. $3-5 per person, per day is usually considered a reasonable tip for the driver. If you hire a mini bus or other private driver for your family it’s appropriate to tip around 10% depending on how happy you were with the service.
Hotel Staff: Hotel staff will expect to be tipped for service rendered. A few shekels for bags carried or help from the concierge is standard.
Restaurants: Tipping at restaurants is similar in Israel to the US. 10-15% is standard, based on the level of service received. Make sure to look at your receipt, sometimes it will say, “10% service fee included”. In such a case, a tip is not necessary.
Taxis: Israelis never tip taxi drivers. Nevertheless, taxis that serve tourist destinations have become accustomed to being tipped by tourists. If the driver hints that he wants a tip, something symbolic like 5 shekels is more than enough. Do not give in to pressure to give a large tip to Taxis.
Tour Guides: It’s appropriate to tip tour guides. Tip your tour guide based on how long you spent with him, the level of service provided, and how many other people were on the tour. For a private tour I would suggest using 10% as a base line. If the guide went above and beyond then you should consider tipping more. I personally never expect a tip but I see it as a sign that I did a good job when my clients tip me.
Most tourists find traveler’s checks to be a hassle to use in Israel. Major credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are accepted at most establishments in Israel. I suggest bringing a reasonable amount of cash as well as a Debit/ATM card from your bank. Check with your card provider to find out what kind of fee they charge for international withdrawals and transactions. Some cards are much better than others. You will be able to take cash out at almost all ATM machines in Israel. Some business will accept US checks as well so it is worth bringing a checkbook with you.
Most tourists who visit Israel stay in Hotels. Of course there is something great about the convenience of a hotel. I would like to suggest that you also consider vacation rentals as well. Vacation rentals can have several advantages over staying in a hotel.
Price – you can often book a vacation rental for much less than a hotel room.
Space – Most vacation rentals are small apartments where you will have much more space than a hotel room
Location – Hotels are centered in the main tourists areas. Vacation rentals are usually available in these areas as well, but are also available in off the beaten track places that you may want to visit on your trip.
Experience – In a hotel you will be together with a lot of other tourists. In a vacation rental you will more likely be living among locals, giving you a more authentic Israel experience.
Of course it’s not for everyone, many people prefer the streamlined experience of a Hotel, but if you would like to try something different, I highly recommend trying to find a vacation rental. Today there are many websites that make it very easy to find one that meets your needs and budget. I also have some great personal recommendations depending on which area you are staying in. Feel free to contact me for advice.
Tap water in Israel is very high quality. You can feel safe drinking tap water anywhere in Israel. Nevertheless, some people prefer to buy bottled water because of the high mineral content in the Israeli tap water.
Make sure to drink a lot more water in Israel than you are used to. The total solar radiation in Israel is among the highest in the world. This causes your body to consume a lot more water than you may be accustomed to.