As you may or may not recall from one of my previous blogs, I recently went on Birthright, a free trip to Israel for Jewish adults and young adults who meet the requirements. On my travels, I picked up on some things that I would have liked to have known before going on this trip. In order, here are seven things to keep in mind before and during your Birthright trip:
1. If you’ve been to Israel on a group trip before, do not go on a trip like “Discover Israel,” “Israel Vibe” or “Israel Inside Out.”
My birthright trip was called “Israel Vibe,” and having gone to Israel twice previously with school, most of what I did on this trip I had done already. For example, I had already climbed Masada and visited the Dead Sea. Instead of doing one of these trips, I recommend trying something new.
There are several LGBT trips, culinary explorations, and arts and culture trips. These specialty trips will introduce you to exciting parts of Israel that you’ve never seen before, while ones like “Israel Vibe” will mostly take you to the classic touristy spots you’ve already been fortunate enough to discover.
2. Birthright is not easy.
Though I only know what I experienced on my trip, I can, without a doubt, say that the Birthright trip is not for the weak. With early wake up times, hot Israeli weather, jet-lag and days with a lot of walking on barely any sleep, this trip can oftentimes be tiring. Before signing up for a Birthright trip, make sure you’re in the right mindset and physical shape to deal with exhausting, but ultimately worthwhile, days.
3. Take some time to brush up on your Hebrew.
Even though I know some Hebrew, it still took a few days for me to get reacquainted with the language once I was in Israel. Regardless of whether or not you know any Hebrew, brush up on key Hebrew phrases and words. Learn how to ask about prices and then learn the numbers so you can understand their answer. Learn greetings, like “hello” and “welcome.” This, and more, will definitely come in handy.
4. Keep an open mind.
Bedouin tents are not five star hotels, and Masada might be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life.
The Birthright trip is like any other vacation. There will be ups and downs, and not every moment of the trip is going to be perfect and ideal. By keeping an open mind, you won’t be as disappointed when things don’t work out as you hope. Furthermore, when the trip exceeds your expectations, you’ll be infinitely excited about being there.
5. Sleep is not overrated.
If you really want to enjoy Birthright, get as much sleep as you can before and during the trip.
Your trip might be laid out so that when you arrive in Israel you have a full day of activities, and, if you’re anything like me and you don’t sleep on the plane or the night before, that first day will feel nearly impossible to make it through. I ran for more than 30 hours on just 3 hours of sleep. Therefore, I spent the entire first day in a half-asleep fog.
Moreover, when you’re actually on the trip, get as much sleep as you can at night. You won’t enjoy the trip if you can’t keep your eyes open.
6. There are some items you won’t necessarily be advised to bring. Bring them.
Packing for any trip can be an overwhelming experience. On my trip, I brought some items that ended up coming in handy, and I didn’t have items that I actually ended up wanting. Here are some things to bring that your coordinator might not tell you about:
- Just a bit of spare room in your suitcase for dirty laundry and souvenirs
- A garbage bag for dirty laundry
- A washcloth from home and two flimsy beach towels. If you sleep in the Bedouin tents and go to the Dead Sea, you’ll want all three.
- Three shoes only: gym shoes, a pair of nice shoes, and water shoes/sandals. That’s all you’ll need, and you’ll regret bringing more.
- A small backpack for day trips and hiking and potential souvenirs
- Soap that doubles as dish soap and laundry detergent
- A fan, especially if you go in the summer
- Neosporin, Benadryl, and Cortisone
- Extra Ziploc bags
- Hand and/or surface wipes and/or hand sanitizer. Not all places in Israel have hand soap in the bathrooms.
- More than $300. Chances are you’ll end up spending more than the recommended amount, and you don’t want to be forced to pay a fee for using an international ATM.
- A flag from your alma mater, state, country, etc. You may get to the top of Masada or to any other really neat lookout and find the perfect opportunity to snap a pic representing a place that’s very important to you.
7. Take a moment to think about the trip while you’re there.
Going to Israel is an incredibly special moment regardless, but when you’re going with other young Jews to discover your roots, it’s even more so.
When you’re riding your camel or putting a note in the Western Wall, take a moment to think about where you are, why you’re there and how you got there. Think about all the Birthright participants who went there before you, and before them, and our ancestors who lived in the centuries before Israel was a country.
Reflecting on your trip while you’re there will put everything in perspective for you and help you to appreciate it even more.