Tips and Tricks how to overcome Israel’s “Insane” tourism prices
Israel is a very expensive country. It Ranks as #14 according the cost of living Expatistan Index, in the same ball park as the USA and Japan. However, when it comes to travel, the situation in even worse. Hotels, restaurants and alcohol prices are sky-high. Almost every travel blogger writing about Israel complains about this. For example, the leading travel blog TravelTomTom describing it: “Damn this country is expensive! … I was in shock when I found out that a beer in one of the most famous boulevards in Tel Aviv was $12 for a pint. “
The good news is, that if you are minded about it, and plan correctly, you can get away also with a more decent budget. In this guide I will try to provide a few useful tips.
Avoid Holidays (Hagim in Hebrew):
For many travelers from abroad, to understand when there is a holiday in Israel is very confusing. This comes from two main reasons. There are many Jewish holidays, that can be unknown for non-Jewish people. In addition to that, The Jewish calendar shifts about 7 days each year compared to the Gregorian calendar, so the date of each holiday changes every year. The first thing anyone should do before planning his vacation to Israel, is put down the list of the Holidays and make sure the planned vacation dates do not overlap a holiday. You can use the hebcal website to get the current year dates. Why is it so Important? Accommodation prices spikes up dramatically, many tourist attractions get overcrowded and the risk for traffic jams is much higher. Since Jewish holidays will usually not overlap Christian holidays, its easy to avoid if you plan ahead.
Many low-cost airlines fly nowadays to Israel. So be sure to check out their websites. The biggest ones that fly from many European cities are EasyJet and Wizz. Also, checkout flights to the recently opened new Ramon airport near Eilat. Flights to Eilat tend to be cheaper compared to the flight to Ben Grunion airport. If you are planning to tour the south of Israel it might be your preferred choice.
This is probably the expense where Israel is the most expensive when compared to other countries. Prices of good hotels in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem is crazy high. Prices get better in rural areas but are still high. So, what can you do? More and more hostels are opening up in recent years. Most of them offer decent level of accommodation at a much lower price when compared to hotels. They will typically offer both dormitories and private rooms. The hostels are divided between 2 associations. The ILH the IHY. Both website list and link to all the hostels. You can find out more tips on Budgets accommodations in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem on the Broke Backpacker Guide (updated for 2019).
If you are more adventurous you can try Couchsurfing which is getting more popular in Israel over the last few years.
How to Eat tasty food on a budget?
Restaurant are also very expensive. However, there are 2 very tasty solutions for that. Israel Street food is amazing. Most tourists just fall in love with Israeli dishes like Falafel, Humus, “Pita with Zaatar” and Sabich. (just a partial list). Another and even cheaper alternative is the “Shuk” (Market), where you can pick fresh and tasty local produces very cheap, while also enjoying the cultural experience of wondering around in the “Shuk”.
Israel’s public transportation system could be better. The larger cities are well connected with both frequent train and bus lines. If most of your vacations is in the cities, you can get along very well without hiring a car. Inside the cities, taxi service is very expensive, and the public transportations is complicated and not so efficient (Except for the light rail in Jerusalem). The best recommendation is walking (and renting bicycles when you tour Tel-Aviv). Public transportation is completely shut down during Shabbat (Friday afternoon until Saturday evening). Plan well where you spend the weekend if you rely on buses/trains. It’s not going to be easy if you get stuck during Shabbat where you did not plan to.
Touring rural areas is most convenient with a rental car. However, if you are on a budget you can also get along fairly decent with hitchhiking. Most tourists report hitchhiking in Israel as a positive experience
Haggling in Israel is a must if you don’t want to get ripped off. It is not considered impolite. However, it is not acceptable everywhere. For example, restaurants, hotels and stores in shopping malls are not a place where someone will even consider haggling. On the other hand, in the market, in a small local shop or with a taxi driver don’t be ashamed to haggle.
How much should it actually cost?
- Budget rough backpacking 20$-50$: Camping, couch-surfing, cook your own food, hitchhiking, stick to free attractions.
- Backpackers 50$-100$: Dorms, Street-food, Public transportation, budget attractions such as national parks and “free” walking tours.
- Low budget tourist 100$-175$: Private double rooms at hostels, hired car for out of city travel, basic restaurants, group tours.
- Comfort 175$-300$: Good (But not luxury) hotel room, hires car, restaurants and tours.
You can use this handful cost overview to get a better feeling on how much money you need to allocate to travel in Israel.