The holidays are behind us, and the weather is starting to turn wintery. We look at the long dark winter ahead of us, and there seems to be little to get excited about. But wait! I have an idea. This is the very best time to plan a vacation. A vacation? When it will be dark, and cold, and rainy? Who wants to go now? That’s the exact reason you should go now. Winter tends to be the cheapest time to travel to many locations, and if you work in an office, where you have to balance your vacation time with others, you will have less competition.
Israel is always a wonderful place to visit whenever you have a chance, but sometimes the travel bug or the cheap ticket takes you to a different direction – perhaps London or Paris or even Venice?
If so, here are a few handy tips that I’ve come across in my travels or learned through experience. I hope they make your travels as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Before the trip:
- Learn the language, or at least a few basic phrases. I know it’s shocking to Americans, but not everyone in the world speaks English, even people whom you would assume would, such as those in the tourist industry. Try to learn as much as possible before you go. There’s always the easy way of downloading language apps, but if you want to be able to converse with locals, try using a language platform where you can speak with native speakers, or hire a native speaker to talk to you. Over the course of a month, taking a lesson a day, you can really learn a tremendous amount. In addition, brush up on your Hebrew, as Hebrew is the universal Jewish language. Even if you won’t be able to speak the local language, you will at least be able to speak with the Jewish community members.
- Deciding where to stay: I strongly encourage you to consider renting an apartment instead of going to a hotel. Hotels are generic, while apartments are authentic, and can give you the full feeling of being immersed in a brand new culture. After a full day of traveling, you turn down your little street and enter your charming apartment. There are many options to rent apartments, and often, prices are much lower than a comparable size hotel. Your apartment will come with at least some elements of a kitchen, giving you the option of eating some meals at home. You can also search for an apartment with a washing machine, so you pack even lighter (see the tips regarding packing light further down).
- Research: The more you know, the more you will enjoy. For example, before we went to Venice, I read about how the city was built and the rich Jewish history there. Then, when we had the chance to daven in its ancient synagogues, I was able to truly appreciate the history in the luxuriously-decorated rooms. Research also helps with planning your itinerary.
- Create a flexible itinerary. You want to know what you want to see, but also give yourself the opportunity to be spontaneous. The sweet spot is to know what is out there, without scheduling every hour. This way, as you go about your day, and you come across an historic or interesting site, you will know enough to stop in and take a look, and have an understanding of what you are seeing.
- You will need cash. As an American, who never has more than a few dollars on me, it was shocking to see how rarely people in other countries use credit cards. Make sure to take at least a couple of hundred dollars in cash with you, and research where you can transfer or withdraw money with a minimum of fees.
- Packing light: One of my favorite travel hacks is packing light, yet effectively. This saves you time not just at the airports; it also eliminates the possibility of lost luggage. Furthermore, carrying fewer things makes it easier to get around the city and keep things neat and organized. However, it does mean you will have to do laundry. If you rent an apartment with a washing machine, good for you. If you don’t and have to use a local laundromat, let’s look at the positive: you have another opportunity to enjoy an off-the-beaten path experience, as well as having time to relax, and perhaps catch up on some work emails. You can also check if there are laundromats where you can drop off your laundry in the morning and either pick it up or have it delivered to you all washed, dried and folded for you.
What’s essential? Three or four tops/shirts, two or three skirts/pants, lots of underwear, basic toiletries, comfortable shoes, an empty water bottle, and your cell phone charger. If you are going to a place without a sizeable Jewish community, you might want to bring some oatmeal packets, cereal bars, crackers, peanut butter packets, tuna in a pouch and a loaf of bread.
- Cellphones: Last, but definitely not least, is figuring out the best way to use a cell phone. You definitely want to use a smart phone when you are in a strange land. You would have GPS, the ability to translate, the ability to easily research what kosher options are available to you and when/where is the local minyan/Chabad is and so much more. There are options to rent a cellphone, or just a sim card, but many phone companies have a roaming plan that is not terribly expensive. This way, you can use your phone, and receive all your messages, while your loved ones can easily reach you without calling international.
Next month, we’ll focus on what to do on your vacation.