Okay, so you’re headed to Israel and the West Bank. Here are a few handy travel tips to keep in mind:
Don’t forget to pack a few extra: toys or trinkets for home-stay host kids. The bangles I gave the little girls of my Bedouin host family went down a treat.
If you only have 24-48 hours in Israel and the West Bank, you must visit: The Negev Desert in Israel and Hebron in the West Bank: two unlikely highlights, but my biggest discoveries on this trip.
If you’re going to haggle, keep this in mind: Smile. Haggling’s part of life throughout the region, but it’s always friendly. And it appears to be even more crucial if you are planning on picking up a goat at a Bedouin livestock market.
The one food I totally loved was: Hummus. It is more than a food; it is the biggest bond (although they might not realize it) between Israelis and Palestinians.
And the one food I will pass on in the future is: Chicken. If I was not vegetarian already, my chicken slaughterhouse experience would have converted me pronto.
I know it may sound weird, but you absolutely have to try: a night out at a Palestinian nightclub. Only for night-owls, though. Things don’t heat up until well after midnight.
But as an independent traveller in Israel and the West Bank, the one thing I would avoid is: travelling through military checkpoints. Sadly, at the moment, they’re impossible to avoid.
I was really surprised by: the openness of people. I have always known that Middle Eastern folk are friendly, but I was amazed by the extent of their hospitality. Israelis, Palestinians, Bedouins, settlers, soldiers …I was welcomed equally by them all.
The best way to fit in and not draw too much attention to yourself is to: throw out your pre-conceived opinions and keep an open mind. Encourage people to talk about their life and beliefs, and simply listen.
When it comes to getting around, I recommend: buses, both Israeli and Palestinian. They are cheap, remarkably reliable (if you can only find the bus stop) and a good way to strike up conversations with the locals.
A good place to get basics (bottled water, toothpaste, a snack, stamps, phone cards) is: almost anywhere. You will always stumble across a little hole-in-the-wall shop, open all hours and vending everything you might need. Except, perhaps, in the very depths of the desert.
And it’s always nice to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘how much?’ in the native tongue. And that is: in Hebrew: ‘bevakasha,’ ‘toda’ and ‘cama?’; In Arabic ‘min fadlak/fadlik’, ‘chokran’, ‘qaddaysh?’