Headed for the free trip to Israel and want all the pro tips? You’ve clicked on the right post. We polled more than a dozen Birthright alumni to distill their collective wisdom into the clean list below!
#10 – Eat all the foods
Don’t make the mistake of eating only falafel, Israeli salad, and shawarma on your trip. Israel boasts a diverse and flavorful food scene that you don’t want to miss. We recommend quite a few different items – shakshuka, tahini, kanafeh, halva, schnitzel, and the pizza isn’t bad either! If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, avoid chains like McDonald’s; instead, hit up a street food cart. Also, Israeli snacks are the bomb. Try Bamba and Crembo if you see them.
#9 – Extend Your Trip
When we asked our alums about their regrets, many expressed regret at not extending their trip. The trip extension is a great way to get more “value” out of your free trip to Israel. Birthright will pay for you to fly home at a later date if you choose. This means you can do two things: (1) stay longer in Israel, or (2) travel around Europe, then return to Israel and fly home. You’re already traveling thousands of miles; why not stay a little longer?
#8 – Sleep as much as you can on the bus
You’re going to have a lot of early mornings in Israel. Some mornings, particularly when you visit Masada, you’ll wake up at 5 am. You’ll be out all day seeing different things, going to museums, hiking, etc.. and when you get back to your hotel/kibbutz, you’ll want to hang out with your new friends. That means you’ll have a lot of nights where you go to sleep after midnight. Be smart and sleep as much as you possibly can on the bus, because that means more time at night to hang out with your group.
#7 – Make friends with everyone, and don’t stick with your clique
After the first few days, you’ll definitely have a core group of friends. While it can feel “safe” to stick with them, remember that you’re in Israel to explore and grow! Try to avoid sitting next to your closest friend on the bus every day — branch out. Sit with your medic. Sit with the Israelis. Get to know the people you haven’t talked much with yet. Make a goal of having a deep conversation with every person in your group, and by the end of the trip, you won’t have any regrets!
#6 – Don’t go to sleep right when the day ends
Sure, you might be tired after the grueling schedule. Waking up at 6 am, then having a full day of hiking, swimming, and sight-seeing can be rough. But when you finally finish your activities for the day, and you’re turned loose to get some R&R, resist the urge to pass out. I have several great memories from my trip that happened after hours, and the trip wouldn’t have been the same without them. Invite people to hang out in your room, or find out who’s hosting people in theirs. That leads me to my next item…
#5 – Don’t get blackout drunk
Depending on the trip organizer you choose, you may or may not have ready access to alcohol. This tip goes out to the people who choose Israel Outdoors, Israel Experts, and other liberal trip organizers. Arak (pictured right) is the alcohol of choice for Israelis. It tastes like star anise and licorice and death. You don’t want to be the person in the group that didn’t know his/her limits and ruined the night or got the group in trouble. Just count your drinks and pace yourself, and you’ll be fine. People on the 23-26 y/o trips probably won’t over-drink, but 18-22 y/o trip-goers, be forewarned.
#4 – Make really good friends with your medic
The medic on my trip was the man. We quickly became close friends, and by the time the Israelis joined our group, our medic backed me up big time. His approval meant that I was basically in with any Israelis we met on our trip, particularly the gorgeous IDF girls. A little more on the medic – he or she will carry a gun at all times, he or she is responsible for your group’s safety, and he or she is very badly paid. Be a friend and help out when you can, offer him a cigarette if you smoke, and you’ll be solid. Your medic can lift you to superstar status.
#3 – Don’t get Dead Sea water in your eyes (bonus tip: don’t spend a lot of money on their cosmetics)
If you get Dead Sea water in your eye(s), you’re gonna have a bad time. It literally feels like someone squirted hot sauce in your eye. I know because despite warning other people in my group of the danger, I was the idiot it actually happened to. I had red eyes for a full day. Bring goggles, or simply don’t be a dipshit like me, and you’ll be fine. Here’s a bonus tip: when you go to the Dead Sea, you’ll make a few stops at cosmetics shops. Don’t go overboard and buy a whole lot of the skin products. Buy one for your mom or sister. More than that, it’s kind of a scam.
#2 – If you think someone’s attractive, go for the hook-up
Israel is not the place to be coy or bashful. If you like someone and you’re feeling good vibes, there’s a damn good chance they like you back. In the US, maybe you’re a bit shy, or you wait until you really get to know someone before hooking up with them. But on the Birthright trip, you’re going to get hyper-acquainted with the other people in your group VERY quickly. Let it happen – one of the unwritten goals of Birthright is to help Jews fall in love with each other. Don’t be left wondering after the trip what could have happened if you’d just gone for it.
#1 – Choose your trip organizer extremely carefully
We’ve done a handful of interviews on this site to help you choose the best trip organizer. This was THE most difficult decision I had to make when signing up for the free trip to Israel. Hands down. Read our various guides, and if you’re liberal (pro-hooking up, drinking, etc), I highly recommend the organizer I went with – Israel Outdoors. If you have friends who went on Birthright, ask them about their trip organizer. Did they have any regrets? Was there a rabbi present during their whole trip? Ask questions like that and you’ll do fine.