The one question I keep getting regarding my recent trip to Israel is, “What did it cost?” You see, I was there for 16 days. Most tours are 7, 9, or 11 days. And these run from $3300 to over $5000. So, people have a hard time imagining what 16 days might cost.
I am not a wealthy woman – at least not financially. Though when factoring in the entire world, I could be considered wealthy. When it comes to family and friends, I know I am one of the richest people on earth. But financially in the USA? I pay my bills and sometimes find there is more month left at the end than money, but God always gets me through.
So how could I afford a 16 day excursion to the land of Israel?
God provided the opportunity for me to work an extra job or two. He also provided an unexpected bonus at work. But I can tell you, together they did not add up to enough money to go with an organized tour. And to be honest, I didn’t want to.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Organized tours have their place. The first time I went to Israel, I went on a tour. Through the generosity of family and friends, I was able to visit the land – a dream come true. But it whet my appetite for more. There were so many things I wanted to see, but were not on our itinerary during that trip, though there was so very much we did see.
Another thing I wanted to do if I ever returned to Israel, was to spend more time at the sites. I didn’t want to just look and see, but I wanted to sit and meditate. To talk to the Lord and listen to what he had to say to me. To spend enough time in any one place that I could learn what he wanted me to learn from that spot. And that is exactly what happened on this trip.
But again, how much did it cost?
In planning the trip, and with the help of my co-traveler Maria, the goal was to keep the cost down. Being frugal is something I learned from my mother. She raised three kids mostly on her own. As a child, I don’t ever remember feeling deprived. When I had a family of my own, I also ended up raising six kids mostly on my own. Sometimes they did feel deprived, but now that they are adults providing for themselves, they often ask me how I did it with six of them. (Can I tell you that is a good feeling as a mom?)
So I’ve learned a thing or two about shaving costs – especially on vacation. When the kids were younger, we took many trips to Disney World. We would camp in a tent, cook our own meals, and save the spending for everyone to buy a souvenir. While I love 4-star hotels and dining out at the best restaurants (and there was a time in my life that I could do just that), I also love the challenge of finding the least expensive way to get the most out of a trip.
Last year I looked into taking a trip to Israel, sans tour company. I couldn’t see how it would cost that much less, given the discounts they get. However, I really didn’t spend a whole lot of energy doing it. But now that we were definitely going, I spent hours researching.
The first thing we needed was a flight. Most of the discount flights take several days to get to or from Israel (read long layovers). I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to waste time just getting there or back home, so we researched and found a flight for $988. Just the week before I saw one for $848, but by the time we were able to get together to book the flight, that one was gone.
Our Connections group has asked that we head up a tour next year, so I started looking into flights. Depending on when we go, I saw some round trips for $647! Advance planning is key. But so is commitment. You see, these less expensive flights are non-refundable, so once you commit, you are definitely going. (Good thing, because right after booking the flight, I had to have some dental work that would have prevented me from going, had I not already committed. But God knew that, and he provided additional jobs for me.)
For accommodations, Maria shared that when she travels, she stays in hostels. I’ve shared before that my daughter was shocked that I would consider that. She thinks of mom as the 4-star hotel kind of gal. And while that’s true, she forgets ‘camper mom’. 🙂 So we found hostels ranging from $27 to $54 a night, depending on the location. Some offered breakfast, some didn’t.
If you read my post about Metzoke Dragot, you would know what a harrowing experience it was. What you might not know is that we ended up paying for a night and a meal that we chose not to use, so $60 went to waste. But the peace of mind (in not having to climb that mountain again) was worth it. In all, the hostels ran an average of $39 per night.
We rented a car. The original plan was to rent it two separate times, but it turned out to be easier to keep it straight through and pay for parking (though on the Sabbath the parking is free in Jerusalem.) So the car rental, gas, and parking totaled $381 which we split between the two of us, so each paid ~$190.
Food is a little trickier to calculate, because many days we ate out. But our average food spending was about $25 per day.
There were some added costs of transportation to and from the airport, the bus to Shiloh, Daniel’s worship boat, and the entrance fees to the sites. (Israel has an all parks pass that includes many of the major sites for about $40.) This came to about $236 each (our return trip to the airport cost $25 more than we anticipated, because we had to take a cab rather than the shared ride.)
So the total cost of the trip (sans souvenirs) was $2540, which was about $100 more than we budgeted, but not bad for one amazing experience in the land of Israel!