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Over the years, I've answered hundreds of questions from visitors to Israel. Quite a few were around the big "what to pack" dilemma. Should I bring sneakers or hiking boots? Do I need to bring a heavy coat when visiting in November? Do I need any special kind of converter for my phone?
This post will provide you with the following lists -
- Things you absolutely should pack for a trip to Israel.
- Things you should probably bring along - depending on the nature of your trip.
- Things you shouldn't bring along.
This is a funny post for me to write because I actually live in Israel. However, as a fellow traveler, I fully appreciate the pains of packing for a new destination that you've never visited before.
The information is based on several sources.
First, questions and comments on my post about What to Wear in Israel. I have had hundreds of those over the years - and I always reply to them all!
Secondly, we love hosting people. We couchsurf and host other couchsurfers. Talking to so many travelers to Israel, I have a pretty good grasp of the things they were happy they brought along, the things they missed (and needed our help with) and the things they were sorry they had dragged along.
Keep reading so you can avoid repeating the same mistakes! And don't forget to follow the tips in the last section of this post as well - they're important!
Things you absolutely should pack for a trip to Israel
Here are the items that you either won't be able to replace or that replacing will take you way too much time. I'll also explain what to do in case you manage to forget or lose one of these.
Well, you won't be able to make it on board your flight without one, so the odds of you landing here without one are slim. However, it's possible to lose documents.
Before you leave, make a copy of your passport. Keep a print somewhere in your belongings, as well as a copy that you can access online.
If you happen to lose your passport while in Israel -
- If you suspect your passport was stolen, report the theft to the local police. Call the number 110 to find out where exactly you need to report the theft so you can get a written copy of the report. (The emergency number for the police in Israel is 100 - although dialing 911 will also work here. The 110 number is for their information center).
- Contact your embassy to find out how to get a new passport or alternative temporary travel documents for your flight back home.
Almost all businesses in Israel accept credit cards. Israelis usually use local versions of VISA and Mastercard. You need to check with your bank to make sure that your card will work in Israel. At least some banks require you to state your travel plans in your account - or else the card will not be valid in a different country.
You can also use your card to get cash from ATM's. You'll find one next to every bank branch and in every shopping center. Just don't forget your code! By the way, you won't be asked for your PIN code when you pay at a store - just doesn't happen here.
What to do if you lose your credit card?
Call your bank back home right away to report the loss of the card. They should be able to instruct you on how to get money transferred to you so you can use it for the remainder of your trip.
You only need this if you plan on renting a vehicle. If you really want to see the country, beyond Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - renting a car in Israel will be a good idea. You can only do that with a valid driver's license. There's no need for any additional papers unless your driving license has no photo or doesn't have your name in English letters on it.
Yes, you can buy cell phones in Israel. In fact, that's easier to do here than in the US because all phones are - by law - unlocked. However, I'm sure you'd like to have your own phone with you - the one you're used to, which has all of your accounts on it etc. Also, phones are not cheap here.
In short, don't forget to pack your mobile phone!
Prescription glasses & sunglasses
You can get new prescription glasses in Israel but just like anywhere else in the world, it can be time-consuming. Save that for an actual emergency such as losing your spectacles, and just remember to pack both types.
Bring along whatever prescription medication you may need. If your meds include narcotics or anything which may look suspicious, it won't hurt to bring along a copy of your original prescription and/or a letter from your doctor. I've never heard of anyone who had any problem with legitimate quantities for personal use - even for a few months - but you never know, so if in doubt, have the papers with you.
If you lose your prescription medications -
You can get a replacement here but naturally, you'll need to see a doctor first. Again, having access to a letter from your doctor or to your medical files will help and make the process faster.
If you have travel insurance with medical coverage, call the insurance companies to find out which doctors they work with. Otherwise, just Google "doctor in Tel Aviv" or "doctor in Jerusalem" and you'll get links to English-speaking doctors who treat tourists.
Things you should bring along
Generally, the dress code in Israel is very casual. Some would call it "non-existent". Just bring your favorite comfortable clothes as the weather calls for. No tie required, and no evening gowns. Even if you're going to a wedding. You'll feel overdressed and out of place.
Take a few minutes to read my detailed post about what to wear in Israel. I included a guide on what to wear, by month of the year, so you can tell whether you need a light jacket or a heavy coat - or possibly neither.
Should you bring "modest clothing"?
I've seen this as an item in others packing lists for Israel. To clarify - you can wear whatever you want in Israel, as long as you're not trying to visit a religious site like a synagogue, a church or a mosque. These establishments tend to have their own rules about what's modest enough for you to wear when visiting.
In my experience, at mosques, both men and women are required to cover the elbows and knees when visiting. Neither are asked to cover their head, by the way. Jewish and Christian sites tend to be more lenient. At the very least, you'll be expected to cover your shoulders. Some places may ask women to cover the elbows and knees as well.
As for synagogues - Orthodox Jewish men wear a head cover (usually with a yarmulka, locally known as "kippa"). Married Jewish women usually cover their head as well. Many visitors to synagogues and other religious sites cover their head out of respect, but you really don't have to.
I know this sounds weird, but local secular Jews sometimes make a point of not covering their head in such places. It's perfectly legal - but may get you into an argument. As a tourist, you may want to anyway, just to avoid any arguments.
So back to packing -
Both women and men should pack at least one set of clothes that cover your elbows and knees, for visiting holy sites.
Women should also carry a shawl or pashmina with them - which can be used as a head cover as well as for covering the shoulders when necessary. Men may want to pack a hat to be used as a head cover if planning to visit synagogues. Actually, a hat is a good idea anyway, so just have accessible and available.
I get so many questions about footwear so clearly, this is on people's minds.
You should bring a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Period. Hiking boots? Sneakers? Sandals? Crocs? Your choice. Pretty much anything will work for any time of the year.
During summertime, you may want to go with a light and well-aired pair of shoes or sandals. But again, whatever works for you, as long as you're comfortable. By the way, if you're traveling light, you can just wear the shoes instead of packing them. One pair should be enough.
Again, no problem with getting any type of toiletries here in Israel. Prices are a bit higher than in the US or even Europe but nothing too dramatic. If you forget anything, you can get it here.
Packing your usual set of toiletries makes sense, of course. You know which items and brands you like - there's no one-list-fits-all with these things. Don't forget any OTC medications that you're used to and female hygiene products (if you need them).
Finally - the "other items" section.
Adapter and/or converter
There are two separate issues - although you can find an all-in-one solution.
Adapter & Converter
You would need an adapter just so that you can plug something into an Israeli outlet (depending on where you come from). This is what our outlets look like -
If you're coming from the US or Canada, you also need a converter.
Israel - like most European countries - uses 220v system. If you plug in a US-bought appliance into an Israeli socket - using a simple adapter you'll basically fry that gadget. It will probably work at first - and then stop once the excess voltage heats it up and destroys it. Tried and tested...
To avoid that, you need a voltage converter as well as an adapter. Fortunately, these are easy to get since you can have an adapter and converter in one. It will come in handy in any country you'll travel to.
Not sure which to get and where? Click for my detailed guide about adapters and converters for those traveling to Israel.
Can't live without your phone and the phone can't live for long without a charger! You can buy phone chargers here but they will be a local version, suitable for our electric system. On the plus side, you won't need an adapter/converter. On the other hand, you won't be able to use them elsewhere in the world.
If you have an iPhone, chargers tend to be expensive so it's best to bring your own and take good care of it. That means never plugging it in without an adapter/converter (see above).
Extra phone batteries or power banks
You're bound to be using your phone a lot when traveling. Israel has excellent data phone coverage and there's free WiFi in many places. You'll also be taking pictures and maybe shooting videos.
I usually run out of battery mid-day when traveling. My Samsung Galaxy S6 has a fixed battery, so I carry one or two power banks with me. If your phone has detachable batteries, get a couple of those. Don't run of juice during your trip.
Traveling during summertime, or just planning on being outdoors a lot? Consider bringing a hat with you. Your choice of hat or cap is personal - just keep in mind that some sort of head cover when out in the sun is important.
A hat is also useful if you plan on visiting local synagogues. You don't have to cover your head but it is the polite thing to do.
Did I mention the sun already? You can get sunburnt here just by spending a few hours outside on a summer day. Even more so if you're visiting the seaside. Get good quality sunscreen that's right for your skin and use it liberally.
Things you shouldn't bring along
You probably know all about the items you can't bring aboard the airplane. Obviously, don't bring with you any drugs or drug paraphernalia or any weapon of any kind.
There are some items which may be perfectly legal to bring in Israel - but I would advise against doing so.
These items basically include anything that may raise suspicion of any kind of involvement in the conflict -
- Toy weapons
- Books or other reading material in Arabic
- Political material relating to the local conflict (regardless of which side you happen to support)
- Clothes which carry political statements relating to the local conflicts
Again, all of the above are perfectly legal to carry around in Israel. And if you're an Arab Israeli citizen who happens to be reading a book in Arabic on board the flight, that's perfectly ok too. The problem would be with tourists who may be suspected of being affiliated with terrorists - either Palestinian or Jewish ones (yes, we have the latter as well).
What would happen if you do bring one of these items?
I can tell you what happened to one of our Couchsurfing guests. He was an American guy, a Mormon who had spent six months in Egypt on his mission. While there, he took the time to learn Arabic and so he had with him a copy of the Koran in Arabic.
He came to Israel from Egypt on a bus and crossed the border near Eilat. When he entered, they asked him to show the content of his bag and that book in Arabic simply meant he had to wait for a couple of hours for them to call the officer in charge, and go through further questioning. Once they were convinced he was ok - he was let in, along with his Koran, not a problem. Except for the aggravation and lost time.
A few more tips for packing for a trip to Israel
Most people who visit Israel seem to avoid renting a car or driving. With some itineraries, that's fully justified. With others, not so much, but that's another point. If you want to know what I really think about this, read my post about renting a car in Israel.
The point is unless you're renting a car at the airport for the duration of your trip, you should really travel light. Lugging a big suitcase behind you is never fun. Public transportation options in Israel are generally ok but they may require you to walk for 5-10 minutes between stations when switching bus lines. Easier to do when you have less luggage, especially in the rain or on a hot day.
And do yourself a favor, unless you have back issues, choose a carry on backpack instead of a suitcase-only type of luggage. It's just going to be so much easier for you to take your stuff on your back as you travel around.
Pack clothes for only 3-4 days
Still, on the "travel light" theme.
If you're traveling with a low-cost airline, you may get a much cheaper ticket if you avoid bringing a suitcase at all. Sticking to the trolley-sized allowance is actually preferable, IMO. We've done that several times when we traveled to Europe and it worked just fine.
If you're traveling solo, you can absolutely pack clothes only for 3-4 days. You should be able to find self-service laundromats in any big city here, and in some of the smaller ones too. Just use Google Maps to find them. Here's what the search results look like in Tel Aviv -
Clicking on the pins will show you the opening hours. And they're super convenient with many places open 24/7. I only wish we could find laundromats that easily in European countries we travel to.
Other cities have their share of accessible laundromats, though with more limited opening hours. There's a reason why Tel Aviv's slogan is "The City That Never Stops".
The point is, you don't need to pack clothes for the entire trip - packing for 3-4 days is plenty. Just leave some time for doing your laundry.
If you travel solo, that is. If traveling with a group, you should discuss this with the tour organizer to see if you're going to get enough free time in major cities - and when that's going to happen.
You can find (almost) everything here
In other words: Don't fret.
Yes, I know. I suffer from travel anxiety myself, so I do fret before any trip, When packing is concerned, here's how my husband puts my mind at ease:
He reminds me that whatever we end up forgetting, we'll be able to buy once we reach our destination.
And he's right.
Get this - I was frantic about getting all of the right clothes, toiletries, and medical supplies in our suitcase before our very first trip to... the USA. Turns out, most of the stuff is actually available locally in the stores. Who would have thought?
Now, things are actually a little bit more expensive to buy in Israel. Also, your travel time is super valuable and you should make the most of it sightseeing and not shopping for sunscreen or band-aids. However, just know that if you do end up forgetting almost anything - you'll be able to find it here.
When I say "almost", I'm referring to the following -
- Driver's license (in case you'd like to rent a car)
- Credit car (getting one sent over would be a total PITA)
Other than that, you can absolutely forget anything else. Worst case scenario, you'll pay some money and buy a replacement while in Israel.