When I told people I was going to Israel they looked at me like I had two heads, and I don’t blame them. There was something that drew me to the place but, to be honest, I was scared as hell. Why did I decide to stay in a warzone for my birthday? Was I going to spend my time in armoured housing while spooning hummus onto pita bread? And I don’t mean to come at this in an insensitive way, but I literally had no idea what to expect. YouTube was sparse, online guides much the same…what was I getting myself into?!
That’s what created this post: a guide for other travellers, specifically solo female travellers, on what to expect on your next trip to Israel.
(Had to include a clip of one of the best pitas I’ve ever had…my mouth is literally watering writing this…)
Seeing Israel as a Solo Female Traveller
I don’t blame people for feeling fearful of visiting places that are demonised in the western media. A quick Google search now raised headlines of, ‘arson on Gaza strip/Israel significantly relaxes gun laws’, while I was in Jerusalem there were signs outlining the dangers for Israelis entering certain areas as they were Palestinian villages. I get it. This was another big factor for going as I believe in seeing it for myself. There is a certain purse I have that can be hidden easily under clothes, this sounds weird as fuck I know, but I bring it with me to places I feel might be unsafe. I looked at it while packing and thought, ‘you know what, I’ll give it a chance’.
A few words can’t convey a huge message but it’s an easier way of saying, ‘I wasn’t sure what to expect before coming. I was worried about the length of my shorts and if I had to be home before sundown’. The first night I went out I followed the sun, leaving when it got dark to avoid walking dodgy looking streets alone with trusty Google Maps. Looking back now, this is so unnecessary and you’d be wasting your precious evening walk with the sunset!! A lot of the cities in Israel such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa are pretty Westernised and you don’t have to worry about flashing your ankles (aside from Jerusalem, personally I feel it’s more respectful). Again, at holy sites it was recommended to wear modest clothing, most women I saw didn’t. I felt very overdressed in my baggy t-shirt and yoga trousers. Safety did not become a concern of mine since that evening, most streets were populated with busy bars and cafes, I felt free to wander later at night by myself unbothered. The only time someone did get my attention was one evening at a shisha bar, but luckily he was easily palmed off and left after a few minutes. That’s personal safety, what about public safety?
Each mall, train or bus station I entered was through a bag search and metal detector. Israel has mandatory army service and it was not unusual to see men and women uniformed in the streets with guns. I kinda feel that says enough? I did not feel unsafe, and I assure you, you won’t either.
Getting Around Without a Tour
Are you more of a DIYer when it comes to travelling? Great! Israel is for you. Here you’ll find a range of trams, trains, buses and taxis depending on where you are, you won’t find many cobbled unused roads here. Well, maybe outside the big cities! One of my biggest issues were how to get to the dead sea (what a problem, eh) without a tour and on my own. Online advice was confusing, is there a bus? Does it run at this time? Will I get stuck? Just as I was about to click ‘book’ on a day long trip to the beach, I decided to Just Do It as Nike would say and see what happened. It ended up being one long bus straight to the beach, simple.
Just one reason you should definitely visit Jerusalem.
I would advise though to get a Ravkav as soon as you need to use public transport. I prefer to see the sites by foot but sometimes you need to use it, and it will benefit you when you get to places such as Jerusalem which accept only the Ravkav (but a kind bus driver takes pity on you and your poor Hebrew comprehension). I took two day trips out of Tel Aviv, both of which were an hour away on a bus or train, it is incredibly easy to get around. As well as easy, it is also cheap as hell. Three typical fares:
One single trip within Tel Aviv = 5.90 Shekels (1.22 GBP/1.66 USD)
One single trip to Jerusalem = 16 Shekels (3.32 GBP/4.41 USD)
One single trip to Ein Bokek (dead sea beach) = 36 Shekels (7.74 GBP/10.27 USD)
(Correct as of 07/18)
One thing to consider when using public transport is Shabbat, the holy day. Google Maps was an amazing tool in finding routes as well as figuring out what time the last bus arrived on Friday afternoon (which was 1:30PM on Friday from Ein Bokek to Jerusalem…until Sunday morning.).
A final note about tours, I urge people to seriously reconsider booking them unless you are 100% sure you won’t be able to do it yourself or it’s unsafe/you would feel safer. Not just for Israel, I really shy away from organised tours. For example, in Auschwitz, I got the first bus which arrived at 8AM and by 10AM every corner was packed with groups. As a solo traveller I prefer to not traipse around the back of a huge group and personally prefer to take the time to soak in an environment. Especially for a place like this, taking the time to walk, be quiet and quite honestly, become exhausted by it had more of an impact than a tour guide who repeats the same script 7 times a day (no offence). Back to Israel…
Where to Stay in Israel
Originally my plan was to travel a few days in different parts of Israel, but due to my safety concerns and the want to take it a little easier this time, I based myself in Tel Aviv. Landing in the airport at 11PM, I looked around for my transfer…and continued to look for the next hour. This was my first time booking a transfer, and probably my last! There’s a free shuttle to the city, but I won’t attempt to explain it ’cause I didn’t friggin’ understand where it was myself. On the second floor, IIRC, there was a ‘discounted taxi’ area which saved my butt and cost me HALF of what my transfer did…a whole half! It really does pay to stay flexible at times, I’ll come back to this in a moment.
My taxi dropped me off in a narrow, dusty road. Pearls were clutched. I desperately tried to convince the driver that he had the wrong place (he did have the hostel off by 1KM as it went) and to continue driving. But each road seemed the same. Finally I arrived at the right place, threw my backpack down and hid under the covers. In the light of day, the dusty road didn’t change…it just had more traffic and exposed wires hanging from corners. “Florentin? Nah, you’re fine!”, said the guy checking me in, I was sceptical but headed out for a wander. Well. I didn’t expect Tel Aviv to be a place covered in street art, and I don’t mean the odd graffiti tag, but clay figures climbing buildings, pottery embossed walls and walls strewn with colour. It was incredible! I walked this area at both day and late night, neither time did I feel unsafe. In fact, the streets were packed pretty much all day and night, so that was reassuring. I stayed at my first hostel for 2 nights as previously planned, but upon realising it was a party hostel after this guy came out shouting, “WHO WANTS TO SMOKE SOME WEED?!”, I decided this wasn’t my scene.
How sweet are these?! Street art in Tel Aviv
I highly recommend the hostel I spent the remaining time of my trip at, Florentin House. Staying in an 8 bed female dorm for five nights, I paid £113 or £22/night. The room was extremely spacious, immaculate and modern. The room had a balcony and A/C, the only thing I felt was a slight issue was having one bathroom for 8 people, sometimes became hard to navigate but not enough to complain. Located right in the thick of Florentin with bars and cafes on the doorstep, it was a great base if I wanted to take it easy or stroll half an hour to the beach. I don’t cook much while travelling but it is important to also note that the rooftop kitchen (which was sooo nice to chill in the morning) didn’t have any cooking facilities except a toaster. The staff were extremely helpful in re-arranging my booked dates, storing luggage and booking an airport transfer.
Most hostel prices were around £15-25 a night depending on what you’re looking for from the place and I was able to find a last minute place for £14 when taking a detour in Jerusalem in high season. I went with just two nights booked remember, it paid to stay flexible as I ended up in a beautiful hostel and also took a spontaneous night away.
Going Out in Israel
This last section will be pretty short as I don’t have a party lifestyle but felt it was important to include some things I found interesting. I didn’t believe my boss when he told me that Tel Aviv goes all out when it comes to partying. Really? I went to the rooftop bar of the Brown TLV hotel chain- first of all it was called a ‘sundeck’ because people could lounge about on the day beds and even had a BATHTUB and showers??? Very different, very cool. Anyway, back to the point.
I asked the barman when things started getting good, ‘around 1AM’, he said. And that’s just to start going out according to the Israelis. So, at 10PM, I nursed my second beer and called it a night as I could not continue until the party arrived at 1AM…I don’t know if it’s just because I rarely go out drinking, but that seemed late as hell to me. Come midweek, I was interested in seeing what the LGBT scene was like and was seriously surprised. The best way to come to Israel is with an open mind, because a lot of preconceptions will be blown out of the water and this was one for me. There was a good variety of places to go, on Wednesday there was a highly rated lesbian night if that tickles your pickle. Even near the beach there was a lot of #loveislove promotion and if it’s something that concerns you in how comfortable this city is as a gay traveller, there should be no reason.
If you don’t drink, do you smoke? Shisha is available, although not much and the quality isn’t as great as other places. This was disappointing for me and even more disappointing was the lack of cigar bars. I could find one in the Intercontinental but it wasn’t the vibe I was after. Of course, this is personal opinion. If you don’t smoke…then I’m fresh out of ideas. It was a struggle at times to find a place to fill my evening with that wasn’t drinking, maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. Who knows.
Israel is a beautiful place to visit as a solo female traveller, staying away from the politics of it all, it was definitely nothing like I expected and is a place that should also be on your bucket list. Usually my trips are around 3-4 days but I spent a week here- it wasn’t enough, trust me. Go long, explore it all, you won’t regret it.
If you’re interested in checking out Florentin House, here’s the link. I’m not affiliated and wasn’t asked but I felt the place was pretty flawless and would 100% recommend a stay here if you visit Tel Aviv.
If you want £15 credit towards your next Booking reservation, you can use my referral code which also gives me £15 credit, helping travellers travel 🙂