Our Honeymoon In Israel

Romance and adventure in the Middle East.

What I Wish We’d Known Before Honeymooning In Israel

When you choose an unusual destination for your honeymoon, you accept the risk of encountering everything from a mild case of the hiccups to outright life-or-death disasters, without much guidance. Them’s the breaks. Still, we’re philanthropic sorts, so we put together the type of list that we wish we’d had before taking our honeymoon in Israel. Here’s everything* first-time travellers need to know about the Holy Land:

(1) There are no pharmacies.

OK, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration – there are pharmacies, but they are needles in the proverbial haystack. If you don’t pack an adequate stash of toiletries, you will likely end up trading all of your shekels and your first born for a deodorant stick at the “am:pm” (which is kind of like the bastard child of Woolworths and 711). Be sure to take everything you need with you (and, ladies, this goes triple for sanitary items – you have zero chance of finding your preferred brand of tampons).



(2) The sunrise hike at Masada is NOT “all fitness levels”.

Masada is a rugged natural fortress of majestic beauty in the Southern District of Israel, overlooking the Dead Sea. We were lured there by panoramic photographs of stunning views, and the relics dating back two millennia.

Here’s the thing, though: the dodgy website that told us the pre-sunrise hike was “suitable for all fitness levels”? It fucking LIED. We found out the hard way, scaling a treacherous cliff-face in our jeans and sneakers, armed with only a 200mL bottle of water and half a bunch of grapes for sustenance. It’s do-able, but for the love of all that is holy, outfit yourself properly and make sure you have the requisite lung capacity before you set out. You can read the complete account of our harrowing sojourn here.

Exhausted honeymooners reach the peak of Masada

(3) Shabbat is a very serious thing.

“Sure,” say those of us from young countries with relatively little religious influence. “Day of rest, the shops will close a little early and all that. I’m sure it’ll be fine!”.

Right?

Wrong.

Shabbat is serious business. Public transport shuts down, tourist attractions close, the streets are deserted. Tel Aviv – the cosmopolitan hub – remains relatively active, in that the corner stores are still open and they will still sell you beer, but that does not hold true for other more conservative/religious areas like Jerusalem. We very nearly found ourselves stranded on a couple of occasions, as we failed to plan around the day of rest.

So, avoid looking like a philistine tourist and minimise your need to travel or explore on Saturdays.

(4) English is not (necessarily) the lingua franca.

As it turns out, the Israeli government’s concerted effort to revive Hebrew has been incredibly effective, and most locals will assume that you speak it. We were relatively lucky in that we could usually find someone who spoke enough English to get us by… in Tel Aviv.

In the more remote areas, it was tricky – and, beware, there are some spots where (politically) Hebrew is a no-no and Arabic is your only option. I would strongly recommend locking down the basics in both languages (“please”, “thank you”, “bathroom”, “sorry!”, and “beer”)… and maybe even downloading one of those fancy translator apps, the way my mother told us we should.

(5) Visa isn’t accepted everywhere, and bartering is different, and well… money stuff needs to be sorted before you go.

Managing your money in Israel really deserves its own post (and I’ve written one here). To give you the highlights reel:

  • Visa is accepted at a lot of merchants, even if they don’t have a sticker or a sign. Be sure to ask if you’re looking to use your card.
  • However, Visa is not accepted at all ATMs. In a particularly desperate moment, one of the ubiquitous Bank Hapoalim machines (identifiable by their red square logo) spat my card out and refused to dispense cash. It’s best to withdraw and exchange all of the currency you think you’ll need before you leave home.
  • Bartering in Israel is distinctly different from that which you may have experienced elsewhere (in South East Asia or similar). The usual friendly banter and good-natured “come on, buddy!” hokum is not tolerated. Only the most deferential and respectful attempts to negotiate have any effect – and even then, our most successful effort saved us the princely sum of 40c. So, practice your genuflectional bargaining before you leave, and don’t expect too much.


Travelex - Currency

(6) Everybody has a gun.

Well, not everybody to be fair, but there’s certainly more folks carrying rifles on the streets than we see in Sydney’s inner west (thanks to Australia’s amazing gun control laws). We assumed at the time in Israel that the ones with big guns were mostly IDF conscripts, given that a couple years’ military service is mandatory for all Israelis over the age of 18. Turns out, we were right! An eagle-eyed Our Honeymoon in Israel reader was kind enough to get in touch and give us some context: it’s actually very hard to own a weapon for personal use in Israel, but IDF conscripts usually carry their work weapons on their person, given the impracticalities of safely storing them at home or elsewhere.

The huge guns are a little disconcerting when you see them slung across the shoulders of otherwise normal-looking people in street-wear, but you get used to it after a day or two.

(7) Navigating to and from Ben Gurion airport is fraught with peril.

Israel is a wonderful, warm and welcoming country, but they test your worthiness with a trial by fire in the passage from the airport to the city. We had to go back and forth a couple of times, so we tried every means possible. We got horrendously ripped off by a chain-smoking cab driver, we nearly died from crush injuries on a train platform, we had a disastrous attempt at navigating the roads to return a hire car… We can safely say that the only stress-free option is a high-end airport transfer arranged by the trustworthy concierge at your hotel.

You can take our word for it right now, or you can read our accounts of all of the above in our Travel Diary.

(8) Road trips are absolutely the best way to experience this country.

Our families may well have been terrified when we emailed home to say that we’d be road tripping the West Bank, but seriously: the happy set of circumstances that led to our needing to hire a car were the best part of the honeymoon. It turns out, Israel is tiny: about 196km from North to South on the West side, and 490km on the East side, so you can basically circumnavigate it in a day. For a couple of Aussies that need to endure a two hour bus ride to get from one side of the city to the other, this was a revelation!

Yes, you need to be prepared for inspections at a few military check-points, and Israelis are notorious for their terrible driving (every Israeli you speak to will mention it), but it’s the best way to experience the country. You will drive through desert, orchards, cities, country towns, mountains, plateaus, and sites of major religious and historical significance, all literally within minutes of one another. Take advantage of their comparatively cheap hire cars, and revel in the freedom.


(9) You must allow rest for the jet-lagged.

Our first day of our honeymoon, we slept for fourteen hours straight. Our first day back at home, it was sixteen hours. It doesn’t matter if you “sleep on the plane”, it doesn’t matter if you’ll “sleep when you’re dead”, venturing into this part of the world will screw with your circadian rhythms in all kinds of ways. So, book a hotel with a comfy bed, and allow at least a few day’s recovery upon your return before expecting to reintegrate into normal life.

We really should have checked out the many guides available through our friends at Lonely Planet! Learn from our mistakes and check out their amazing Survival Guide!


A version of this post first appeared on the Huffington Post AU Blog.

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26 Comments

  1. ”Bastard child of Woolworths and 711” cracked me up 😀 haha!

  2. Overall, maybe minus the whole sunrise hike at Masada thing, sounds like you had a great time in Israel – thankyou for sharing the lessons you learned – I find that a trip without misadventure is a quite boring one right!!

    Congrats on your wedding btw! A lot of points here which took me by surprise – I did assume that Israel was a largely English speaking land, though I do give the government credit for reviving Hebrew and holding onto their language. And I would’nt have guessed that everything would have shut down on Shabbat – though that was like when I rocked up in Dubai over Rammadam – literally – nothing. I was glad I had booked a hotel with a nice pool to give me something to do!!

    Would love to travel to Israel, and will take your advice about renting a car for a road trip. Thanks for sharing the lessons you learned. And happy honeymoon!

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:31 PM

      Hahahaha thank you so much, Megan! You know, as much as we were totally underprepared and it seemed like an absolute disaster at the time, Masada ended up being one of our favourite honeymoon memories. At the very least, whenever my husband thinks he has a “good idea” for the rest of our lives I can shut him down by just saying “sunrise hike at Masada”. It’s worked well so far! We certainly did have the time of our lives on our honeymoon, disasters and all 🙂

      Had a chuckle at your Ramadan experience – that must have been totally discombobulating! Make sure to google religious holidays before you lock anything in for Israel – not sure if you’ve seen my post about Day 8 of our trip, but we got caught out by Shavuot, which was (almost) another disaster! 🙂 Hope you make it soon!

  3. We went to Israel last year. I’d add that Maestro is not taken at all…so I struggled to pay for anything or even take out cash :/

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:32 PM

      Oh wow, Karen – that must have been a struggle!! Thank you so much for the tip, I’ll make sure to work it into a future post. Did you enjoy your trip otherwise??

  4. Great tips for those who are visiting Israel. I do hope to visit Israel soon but my Malaysian passport is going to be tricky as we are not allowed to travel to Israel “officially”.

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:34 PM

      Argh, that’s so frustrating, Allison! I’m learning more and more about how much people from other countries struggle with travel to Israel politically (issues like yours, with the passport restrictions, etc.). It’s such a bummer, because it’s such an amazing part of the world! Got my fingers crossed that you can figure something out soon!

  5. That’s such an informative post. I never thought of Israel as a Honeymoon destination. Good to know that road trip is the best way to explore.

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:35 PM

      Hahaha, Israel is definitely an unusual choice for a honeymoon – I think we raised quite a few eyebrows with our family and friends when we first suggested it 😉 I wish we could have kept our hire car for longer, road tripping was my absolute favourite. Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

  6. Honeymoon in Israel! What a choice. I have heard about it too, that everyone has a gun.. interesting read.

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:36 PM

      Hahahaha it’s certainly an unconventional choice, but we loved it! 🙂 So much we made an entire blog about it (ha!). We hadn’t heard at all before we went about the gun thing – I mean, we knew (kind of) that there was obligatory military service for young Israelis, and that the IDF was a really strong presence, but we didn’t connect the dots. Definitely a huge part of the culture shock! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!

  7. These are really interesting observations of yours – especially considering the fact that I wouldn’t have known one of them (well, maybe the Shabat thing). I’m new to your blog so I didn’t know where you’re from and was wondering at the “everyone has a gun” thing, but then I read Australia and it made way more sense 😀 Looks like you guys had a great time on your honeymoon, congrats 🙂

    • ShereeStrange

      November 12, 2017 at 12:40 PM

      Welcome, Maria! And thank you so much for coming by 🙂 We certainly did have a wonderful time on our honeymoon, it was better than we could have dreamed!! Israel doesn’t actually seem to get many tourists from Australia (as far as we could tell anyway) – most of the fellow travellers we met there were American, so I’m guessing they weren’t as perturbed by the guns as we were. So I’m doing my bit to spread the word through this blog! So glad you enjoyed the list, let me know if you ever want to chat Israel 🙂

  8. Great read that made me laugh! How did you choose Isreal for your honeymoon!? I love reading first impressions about a country and I had no idea about all the guns or Shabbat.

    • ShereeStrange

      November 13, 2017 at 4:54 PM

      Hahahaha glad we could give you a chuckle! Israel was basically the first destination we came up with that (a) we agreed upon, and (b) we wouldn’t end up stretching out into a six-month extravaganza (in Europe and Asia, everything is so close, we’d end up planning trips like “OK, we’ll spend a week here, and then a few days there, then catch a train to here, and then it’s only a 1 hour flight to there, and then we could…”). There were a bunch of other reasons too, I posted about it here 🙂 We had no idea about the guns or Shabbat either, so now when you go you’ll already be more prepared than us! Hahaha thanks for stopping by!

  9. This was a hilarious post! I love the whole dodgy website telling you you could trek a mountain no matter your fitness level. Haha. At least you didn’t die walking up there! Great tips though for people heading over. Who knew tourist life could be so hard!?

    • ShereeStrange

      November 13, 2017 at 4:56 PM

      Hahahahaha cheers, Toni! Off the back of the Masada experience, I have now assumed the responsibility of researching ALL outdoor activities before departing for the rest of our marriage… Still, it’s one of our favourite memories from the honeymoon. I think, in tourist life, what doesn’t kill you gives you the best stories 😉 Thanks for reading!

  10. Your writing style is HILARIOUS!!!! Jetlag is a b*tch isn’t it? You always have to add in a day or two to get over it! I’ve never thought of venturing Israel before but your photos look incredible and it looks like an interesting place to visit. What was your highlight?

    Char xo

    • ShereeStrange

      November 13, 2017 at 4:59 PM

      Hahahaha THANK YOU Char! Really glad I could give you a chuckle 🙂 I’m also really chuffed you think my photos look incredible (I’m a notoriously crap photographer, and I have a century-old camera on a century-old phone to work with haha). Israel is definitely one of the most interesting places we’ve ever visited (thus, an entire blog dedicated to it) – there were highlights every day! Floating in the Dead Sea would have to be #1 for me, but we also loved our tour of Old Jerusalem, and our picnic in Old Jaffa, and… you know what, there’s a whole post on our favourites here if you’re interested 😉

  11. I’m so glad I read this! I’m going to Israel next year and I wouldn’t have known about the pharmacies or ATMs not taking VISA! I’m going to make sure we pack absolutely everything we need and get all our money ready before we go, so thank you so much for sharing your advice! Also the guns seem a bit off-putting, but like you said, I hope we’ll get used to it!

    • ShereeStrange

      November 13, 2017 at 5:10 PM

      Glad we could help, Anna!! So excited for you, I’d love the chance to do our trip again – please do get in touch if there’s any questions we can answer for you! x

  12. Love it! Sounds like you have an epic adventure

  13. Great tips Sheree! I’m surprised that pharmacies are difficult to come by. I love the idea of a road trip around Israel 🙂

    • ShereeStrange

      November 13, 2017 at 5:11 PM

      It took us by surprise too, Marteen! We ended up handing over an arm, a leg, and our first born for some sunscreen and a pair of compression socks 😐 The road trip was definitely a highlight of the trip, we highly recommend it! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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