Book a flight to Tel Aviv. It is definitely worth the visit. Just don’t arrive or leave on the Shabbat, or you can expect to pay a hefty premium.
So you’re planning a trip to Israel. You’re thinking about planning a trip to Israel. Or you are just generally curious about planning an international trip on a limited budget. You have come to the right place. In this post, I am going to share tips on where, when, and how to book your flight, when to arrive (trust me, this is VERY important), where to stay, and what to see while you’re in the country. (Note: If you are more interested in my impressions and experiences, check out my Travel Tales: Israel post)
Flight: Wizz Air, Vienna, Austria (VIE) à Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV), $54.68
Airport Transportation: $46 (160 shekels)
Accommodations: AirBnB, Carmel Market, $106.63 (2 nights)
Visa Information: None (U.S. Passport)
Currency: Israeli New Shekel (ILS)
Language(s): Hebrew, English
Excursion(s): http://www.viator.com, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Dead Sea Tour, $89.10
First things first. When I plan a trip, I always start with the flight, because all the other arrangements depend on the flight. If you’re flying into Israel, you will most likely be flying into the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (Airport Code: TLV). I found my flight on Sky Scanner (They also have an app). I was looking for cheap flights from Vienna, Austria to “Everywhere” (Sidebar: I love the “Everywhere” feature! If you have time, a little patience, and are open to adventure, I definitely recommend the “Everywhere” feature).
I started searching for my flight about three weeks before the trip (because I am a risk taker, and also I didn’t have a specific location in mind). A $31 flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv caught my eye. Honestly, Israel wasn’t even on my radar for the summer, but a $31 price tag put Tel Aviv right on my summer travel itinerary.
The flight was with Wizz Air, a discount airline that operates in Europe and the Middle East. I had never flown with Wizz Air before, but, again, I was looking for adventure. I looked at the fine print a little more closely, and I noticed that the airline charged extra for a carry-on bag. The carry-on bag brought the final price to $54.68, and I not-so-secretly longed for the old days (2017) when carry-on bags were still free (even on discount airlines).
The flight that I booked was going to arrive in Israel on a Saturday morning, which is Shabbat, a Jewish holy day. While I’m not Jewish, I am a Sabbath observer, and I thought it would be cool to experience the Shabbat in Israel. Now that I have done it, though, I do not recommend traveling into or out of Israel on the Shabbat. Because Shabbat is a holy day, public transportation is not available from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Whereas a public bus or train from the airport into Tel Aviv would normally cost about $4, a Shabbat arrival means paying nearly $50 each way for a private taxi. If I had it to do over again, I would still like to spend the Shabbat in Israel. I just would not arrive during Shabbat hours.
If you do happen to travel to Israel during Shabbat hours, you have two options for getting into Tel Aviv. First, you can take one of the regular airport taxis. They charge a flat rate of 170 shekels (approximately $49). Second, if saving $6 is as important to you as it is to me, you can take one of the reduced rate taxis on Level 2 of the airport. The reduced rate is 150 shekels (approximately $43), and the reduced rate taxis are virtually indistinguishable from the regular taxis.
It is important to note that, while some taxi drivers do accept credit cards, many do not, and you should be prepared to pay the fare in cash. I did not have shekels, but my driver accepted Euros (and gave me my change in shekels). We ended up having to take a detour because the church I wanted to attend wasn’t at its listed address, so I had to pay 10 additional shekels for the driver to take me to a second destination.
If you are not traveling during Shabbat hours, you may take regular public transportation from the airport. More information on public transportation is available here and here.
For international accommodations, I generally have a three-option hierarchy. First, I check to see if I have friends or relatives in the area that can host me (Although I often do, I did not have any local contacts in Israel). Second, I look on Airbnb (Sidenote: I swear by Airbnb). Third, I will look at a site like Booking.com for additional housing options.
For this trip, I booked my accommodations on Airbnb. The place I found was located in the Carmel Marketplace in Tel Aviv. It was a private bedroom in a shared home. There was Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and hot water, and it cost about $50 per night. Depending on your desired amenities, you can find a private room for around $30 – $60 a night.
When I booked the space, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the outside of the home, but when I arrived I noticed that the hosts had painted a big pink ice cream truck on their exterior wall. It gave the space a fun and quirky touch.
The official language in Israel is Hebrew, but many people also speak English. I had no problem navigating the country using English.
Because of ambitious travel itinerary, I spent three days and two nights in Israel. Because it was going to be such a short visit, I originally planned to spend the whole time at the Mediterranean beaches in Tel Aviv.
However, when I actually arrived in Israel, I realized that I was just a short ride from Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a short ride from Bethlehem (in Palestine). Bethlehem was a short ride from the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. There was even the possibility of traveling to the neighboring country of Jordan.
So I looked at the different tour options available on Viator.com, and chose one that included Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea. It was also supposed to include the Jordan River and Jericho (ahem), but somehow those last two places fell out of the itinerary.
Book a flight to Tel Aviv. It is definitely worth the visit. Just don’t arrive or leave on the Shabbat, or you can expect to pay a hefty premium for private taxi service. There are lots of comfortable and safe Airbnb options, so don’t be afraid to give them a try. If you are in the area, it is worth it to travel to Jerusalem and other sites of historical, religious, and cultural significance. If you book your excursion through an official tour company, you will be able to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.