Despite being a fabulous destination, Israel is unfortunately not the cheapest place on the planet. Sky-high hotel prices, super-expensive restaurant checks and rip-off cabs are often the hallmarks of a vacation in our little corner of the Middle East.
Luckily, though, it doesn’t have to be so. From old-fashioned concepts such as hostels and camping to smartphone-savvy solutions such as ridesharing apps or electric scooters, there are plenty of ways to make your trip that much more affordable and not at all less fun.
Check out our top tips below and, most importantly, welcome!
- Stay at a hostel for a nostalgic feel
Before Israelis began regularly escaping the country for a breath of fresh air, annual summer holidays often meant staying a week or so at a local youth hostel. And despite the fact that we’re all apparently flocking to Dubai right now, the Israel Youth Hostels Association is still very much in existence, offering relatively affordable stays in top locations.
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ein Gedi, Masada, the Sea of Galilee, Eilat and many other areas boast these hostels, which give you basic yet comfortable and clean accommodation, breakfast and often additional facilities such as swimming pools. Not too shabby at all.
- Camp in the middle of nature
Camping is another great way to travel Israel on a budget, since the country is absolutely loaded with camping sites bang in the middle of gorgeous nature spots. An overnight stay in a formal, authorized camping site isn’t free of charge, but usually guarantees clean surroundings, bathing facilities and lighting. Just make sure you pick a camping site where karaoke is forbidden, otherwise you’ll be spending the night wishing you were cocooned deep inside a five-star hotel.
- Couch surf and make some new friends
Like so many other places around the world, Israel also has a vibrant couch-surfing community. There are some 100,000 hosts in the country, all ready to give up their spare bed or sofa and give you a chance to get to know and connect with us locals. This is a great choice for travelers preferring an urban stay, and can really cut down on expenses. Plus, there’s likely to be good coffee in the morning.
- Eat hummus, falafel and other street food
Yes, Israel has a dazzling array of fantastic high-end restaurants. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat in them (although you really should, at least once). This is because Israel has an equally dazzling display of delicious street food such as hummus, falafel, sabich and shawarma – all of them pretty cheap, really good, relatively healthy and even somewhat vegan. We recommend that you opt for the busiest-looking places to guarantee freshness and taste.
- Download Moovit and get to know public transport
It’s not wholeheartedly that we’re recommending Israel’s public transport, which is slightly notorious for its inability to arrive on time or with enough space to comfortably seat you. But it is a whole, whole lot cheaper than hailing a cab and really not that difficult to use. (And don’t worry about language barriers – you’ll definitely find a fellow passenger kind enough to tell you where to get off.)
The Moovit app presents bus and train schedules and routes, even carpools, in English as well as an option for paying for your ride; otherwise, buy a Rav Kav public transportation card at the airport and load it from your credit card for use across the country.
- Do like locals and rent a bike or electric scooter
If you’re in Tel Aviv, this is an absolute must. Not only is this a cheap and super-efficient way to get around the city, but you’ll also manage to pass yourself off as a local at the same time. The city is strewn with bikes and scooters for rent everywhere, and they’re super simple to use and enjoy. But please keep your helmet on and adhere to traffic regulations to avoid any mishaps, which are unfortunately aplenty. Otherwise, we’ll have to write up a 101 guide to a trip to Israeli ER – an interesting yet hopefully unnecessary possibility.
- Go food shopping at the market, it’s the best
Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Acre, Ramla and Beersheva are all home to outdoor markets. While some of the items on sale are rubbish, they sell really great fresh produce, sweets, breads and drinks, and are perhaps the ultimate place to stock up for a picnic or dinner. They’re also usually less expensive than supermarkets and convenience stores, and also make for a more authentic marketing experience. An absolute must for any visitor to Israel, not just those on a budget.
- Travel out of season where possible
Israel is usually packed with tourists around Christmas and the summer holidays, making these two seasons rather expensive. However, what these premium-paying visitors don’t know is that it’s actually much nicer to be here in the fall and spring, when temperatures are usually moderate and the prices significantly lower. We therefore highly recommend an off-season visit – chances are that the weather will be just great, and if it isn’t, you can always pop into a good museum or two.
- Don’t change money at the airport
Unless you enjoy getting ripped off, consider changing your local currency into New Israeli Shekels either prior to the departure or once firmly inside the country’s borders. The exchange rates at the airport are somewhat horrific, and you don’t want to start your travel with less money than you have to.
- Start and end your holiday in Eilat
Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat, is a worthy destination on any visit to Israel – think gorgeous beaches, snorkeling in the coral reef, tax-free shopping and plenty of hiking opportunities. And if you are traveling from a European country with direct flights to and from the nearby Ramon Airport, it can be much, much cheaper than getting in and out of the country at Ben-Gurion. And the Israeli government recently announced that it will grant airlines operating direct flights to Ramon subsidies per passenger, meaning that flights to the area will likely increase.