Monday, May 11, 2015

Packing for Israel - what worked and what didn't

This is us riding a camel.  Yep, that's why we packed for comfort and adventure more than for style. I'm the one on the back. 
I've been back from my Israel trip for two weeks now and things are starting to get back to normal.  Let me just say WOW.  It was a great trip.  I'll tell you all about it later, but first I promised a follow up on my Israel Travel - what to pack? blog post letting you know what worked out and what didn't.  My friend, Tamara, has agreed to add her own comments and photos at the end of my Israel posts.  She had special packing considerations as she is far more interested in photography than I am and took special gear for that while I just took a camera I could carry in my pocket.

To recap: we packed for a two week bus tour trip taking place at the end of April. We packed for changeable Spring weather, multiple planned activities and varied terrain as well as modest attire for the various religious sites we planned to visit.  The only restrictions we had was the 50 lb checked baggage and 17 lb carry-on baggage limit for the airline.  Our tour bus had plenty of room for luggage in the compartments underneath so there were no restrictions set by the tour company Friendship Tours.  However, neither of us wanted to haul around 67 lbs of luggage or have to rummage through that many items to find what we wanted on our vacation so we tried to pack as lightly as possible without being too sparse.

I think we would both agree that you should plan to leave 1/4 or more of your suitcase empty going over because you will bring back more than you take over. Additionally, unless you plan to neatly fold your dirty clothes on the return trip, your items will take up more space. I had about 30 lbs combined going over and added probably 5 lbs or more coming back.  Tamara had a little more going over with all her camera equipment and she bought more books than I did so had a bit more returning.  All in all, I think we did quite well as we were among the lightest packers in our group.

You can review my earlier post to see what I brought, but I'll try to remind you as I go.

My Eddie Bauer suitcase and day pack both worked very well as did the Tupperware Eco Tumblers. The suitcase and day pack were both the right size and the cups were perfect for refilling quickly and being easy to empty and wash out and easy to drink from. You can drink the tap water all over Israel, but some of the hotels had softened or strange tasting water so we ended up buying bottled water part of the time.  Our bus driver had cold bottles of water in a cooler available for $1 each all the time which was very convenient--bring a lot of singles.  The only slight annoyance with the suitcase was that with two main compartments, two luggage locks are required.  We did have an issue with someone tampering with our luggage locks at one hotel while we were out for the day (we know because Tamara's lock is alphabetical and she sets a secret code word when she leaves for the day--very clever). They didn't get into the locked suitcases so we do highly recommend locking up before you leave the room.

My shoe selection worked quite well.  I was happy to have both the supper comfy leather Clarks and the super lightweight blue Easy Spirit slip-ons so that I had a change from day to day. Sturdy shoes were a must for all the uneven cobbles and rocky trails and stairs.  I think I could have substituted one pair of Teva style sandals that fasten on for the purple Crocs AND the black water shoes. Tevas would have worked for staying on in the water at the Dead Sea and splashing through Hezekiah's tunnel in Jerusalem without coming off and could have worked to change into at the end of the day, as pool shoes and with a casual skirt.  I did use the Crocs sandals as bedroom slippers too.  A pair that fastened on would not have been as convenient for that.  I do truly wish that I had also included a pair of slightly dressier sandals for going down to dinner at night.

At Tell Dan.  This was the type of terrain we were hiking over sometimes.  You can see why sturdy shoes are needed.
My outerwear worked very well.  We did have rain one day and it was cool and windy several days so the rain/wind shell was needed.  I thought maybe the fluffy fleece would be too hot, but it turned out I needed that too.  It does get cool sometimes in late April in parts of Israel.  I think maybe a slightly less fluffy workout/running jacket like Tamara brought would have been better and would have packed up smaller.  However, I did fold up my fleece and use it as a pillow on the airplane and at the airport so it served an extra purpose.  I also bought a lightweight black cardigan sweater and used it quite a bit.  My Tilley hat worked beautifully as always.  I think our tour group would probably be divided in half if you asked them whether a hat was necessary or not.  Even with a hat and daily sunscreen my skin freckled from the sun. We were outdoors a lot.  I'm sure almost everyone was wishing for a hat the day we baked in the sun outdoors at the tank museum or the day we hiked down Masada.

All of my pants worked well and washed easily in the sink and dried fairly quickly.  Three pairs were sufficient to wear each twice and then wash.  I did get some compliments on the grey Mountain Hardware Yuma pants.  I will note that things didn't exactly dry overnight as I expected.  When you hang them in an unventilated hotel bathroom over the tub to drip dry, there is not enough air circulation to dry them completely overnight.  Once they were no longer dripping, they could be moved to hangers in the closet or to a travel clothes line in another location to finish drying.  Plan for a full 24 hours of dry time unless you are very careful about rolling them up in towels to get the excess moisture out and hanging them in the bedroom and not the bathroom.

The quick dry running shirts also worked perfectly and also took more than overnight to dry in the unventilated bathroom.  Some of the people in the group had button up travel shirts that looked a bit dressier than my t-shirts and also seemed to wash and wear extremely well.  Looking back I should have brought more scarves than just the one melon colored one pictured.  It got a lot of use and another color or print or two would have been nice to have. Some of the ladies in the group brought more than one and that was a smart move to change up the look of outfits without adding much packing weight. I used mine as a shoulder cover for some religious sites, as a fashion accessory, to keep sun off the back of my neck, and also just as a scarf to keep warm.

For swimwear, Tamara and I both agree we should have each brought two suits.  Putting on a wet suit is not fun.  I was happy to have both the rash guard shirt and the board shorts to put over my suit, but I never wore the surf leggings.

Floating in the Dead Sea

My one nice outfit was perfect except for the fact that I definitely should have brought at least one more skirt and a dress.  After a long day sight-seeing outdoors, a shower and a change of clothes was very welcome.  Many of the other ladies had the forethought to bring some nicer clothes to change into for dinner.  My plain, packable, black sheath dress would have been perfect to wear several nights with a change of jewelry or scarf to change the look and wouldn't have taken up much room in my suitcase.  Most of our hotels only had free wifi in the lobby and lounge areas so many members of our group ended up finding each other there after dinner and socializing.
As far as miscellaneous gear, my Eagle Creek shoulder bag worked well.  I think next time I buy one, I'll get one without a flap and maybe slightly larger and with a water bottle pouch on one side, but this one has served me well for a long time.  We had headsets so our guide could talk to us all as a group without shouting and I clipped mine to my bag instead of wearing it around my neck and that worked perfectly.

Next time I think I'll trade in my money belt for one that goes around the neck and has shielding.  I got this one for safety, but I think if I got one with a no-cut strap it would work just as well.  This one worked better before I got the passport book with the extra pages which makes it bulkier.

I did use the umbrella one day and it stayed in my bag on the bus when it was not needed.

The blue patterned fold up Rume Tote Bag was great.  Tamara had one as well and we'd pack what we needed to take with us for the day, but leave it on the bus in those.  We also used mine for a beach bag. Out of curiosity I weighed mine on my postal scale and it weighs 2.2 oz and holds up to 50 lbs of stuff.

What I definitely did not need from the photo above was all those snacks.  There is plenty of food in Israel and we had full buffet breakfasts and dinners at our hotel and stopped somewhere for lunch each day.  I really didn't even want snacks, but had I wanted them they were available for purchase in many places.  Many from our group enjoyed a treat of various flavors of Magnum ice cream bars that are available all over Israel on hot days and fresh, oblong shaped, sesame bagels available from street vendors. I should have just taken a few snacks for the layover time at the airport and not the pound of snacks I hauled all around Israel and ended up bring back home with me again.

The little green REI brand blow up pillow pictured on top above was a complete waste of space.  The valve didn't work and it wouldn't hold air.
Sesame bagels - the vendor will put ground hyssop and salt or zaatar seasoning in the bottom of the plastic bag for you to dip your fresh bread into
Here we are on the shore of the Sea of Galilee with our tour group headsets on
The Trek and Travel Laundry leaves pictured above were pretty much worthless. They didn't seem to do anything. I ended up washing my clothes with the Dr Bronners Liquid Soap I brought to wash out my water cups with.  It worked just fine.

What did work very well were the inexpensive 1 oz bottles I bought from REI pictured above. I thought they might leak, but they didn't. I just labeled them with my label maker.

Our hotels did not have wash cloths.  Bring one of your own if you want one.

A couple of other things I should have brought were some more of those little Wisp toss out mini toothbrushes you can find in the toothpaste aisle most places.  Those were perfect for brushing in the lavatory in the airplane or any rest stop as they are tiny and have the toothpaste on them already.  I should have also remembered to bring chewing gum.

One thing to be sure and not forget is plenty of hand wipes and/or hand sanitizer.
This particular natural sanitizer has a fabulously light and fresh thyme scent

The proper electrical adapters to use for Israel are the ones with round prongs.  However, bring both the one for small round prongs and the one with slightly larger round prongs.  There doesn't seem to be a standard fit.

I also brought a pedometer which was interesting.  We covered about 5 miles per day on foot.

Almost everyone in the group also brought a small notebook or journal and a Bible in print form or electronic form.

Tamara and I each brought our Badger Balm Sore Muscle Rub which was well used on the trip and worked it's magic.  She even shared with a lady who took a tumble on the slippery pavement and she was surprised to find that she didn't even bruise from her spill.

As far as the drawing supplies I brought to sketch with, I should have taken less.  There simply wasn't time for much sketching.  I should have just made due with a few pencils and small sketch pad.  I didn't need to haul the pastels around as I only got one chance to use them.
See of Galilee sketch
Tamara's Notes:

Let's talk shoes!  Initially, I was convinced I could easily get away with two pair for the two weeks:  My trusty worn-in Keens and a pair of simple Tevas.  Both can be worn for hiking as well as in water so they would be great backups for one another.  However, after researching the Dead Sea I grew concerning about the uneven salt floor being rough on the sides of my feet and I didn't want to potentially ruin my favorite Keens so, the day before I flew out to meet up with Sue, I rushed around in search of "water socks".   Bass Pro Shop was the only store in this small Alabama town where I currently reside that had them in stock.  I was so happy with my little last-ditch $12 purchase!  Well, as Sue can attest, as soon as I stepped out onto the tiles of our  Dead Sea hotel, I almost bit it! After the third slip I gave up all pride and proceeded to shuffle along behind Sue like a little old granny.  They worked great once I finally made it down to the Dead Sea but took several days to dry.  They went out to the trash the day I returned home after my loving husband pointed out that no one should be tempted to break an ankle in them.  Turns out that I simply didn't need shoes in the Sea Dead.  There was a ramp with rails one could use when entering and exiting the water and  salt was bumpy yet smooth and felt quite good on my bare feet which hardly touched the bottom anyway.  It was so amazing to simply lift one's feet and start gently bobbing around as though you were sitting in a lounge chair.  Phenomenal ab workout!

The one redeeming quality about my water socks is they looked kind of cool in this photo.  Sue had no slippage issues with her pair from Walmart.


My wonderful-umpteen-dozen-miles-tested-so-comfortable-I-forget-to-take-them-off Keen Arroyos whose slits on the side do no go all the way to the footbed so I didn't even have any issues with rocks in my sandals.  On this particular day I wore socks as the morning was quite chilly as we explored Jerusalem.

Now, as far I'm concerned, no discussion of shoes and Israel is complete without mentioning Naot sandals.  This was a personal quest for me as I had acquired my first pair down in the Keys several years ago and had worn them right out of the store without ever getting a blister.  The option of a removable (hence replaceable) cork footbed that molds to your feet simply seals the deal.  Oh! And they look great too!  Sue did all the research and we were able to squeeze in a quick visit to a store about a third of a mile from our hotel in Tiberius.  While, Sue and our other friend, did not find anything in this particular store to suit their fancy, I once again walked out wearing a new favorite (on sale!) pair and proceeded to wear them off and on for a week around Jerusalem.  I would not recommend them for trail walking but they are fantastic on cobbles and stairs. Unfortunately, this created a fiasco with our co-travelers who now wanted to their own Cinderella Naot moment and Sue was hounded about store locations and hours for the rest of the trip but the timing never worked out in our other locations. This, however, is not a huge problem as Zappos carries a large selection of Naot. I highly recommend the styles that have the removable orthopedic footbeds.

My old pair with new footbeds ordered online through Zappos.  My old footbeds wore out after 5 years.  Naot recommends changing footbeds every 2 years.

The new pair:

Moving on....I bought a Lowepro 16L hatchback camera backpack for this trip and it totally rocked.  It's light weight, with comfortable straps and has a removal padded camera storage box so that it can transition into a great day pack.  It fit nicely under the seat on the plane and I even used it as a footrest in the airport without worrying about damaging my equipment.  For me it's the perfect carryon as I was still able to fit my Nikon D5100 with a 24-70 lens and also a telephoto lens along with a change of clothing, a pashmina in case I needed a light wrap, my ziplock toiletries bag, a book, passport wallet and a snack, glasses case and water bottle.  (My spare shoes also fit in the side pockets when we hiked the water tunnel)  If I'd brought one, I could've fit my tablet in the front tablet pocket as well.  It's the bomdiggidy.  The only thing I had to readjust were the extra straps hitting my legs.  Minor detail.

The Lowepro in action descending the steep "Snake Path" at Masada
What else worked great on this trip?
  • My iPhone without any special plans.  Just turned off cellular and roaming and utilized the free wifi on the bus (slow but useful) or at the hotels.
  • A lightweight battery operated fan. (Mine is a $6 O2Cool from Target) If I have a little breeze I can typically cope with whatever temperature/stuffiness we may experience in a hotel.  It proved its worth our first night at Sea of Galilee.  It was very warm as the air conditioner unit wasn't fully operational and a gazillion gnat-like bugs would cover the walls if you left the balcony door open.
  • The tiny packable Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline :
    Laundry Day for Tamara at the Ramada in Jerusalem

  • My choices in clothing:  one fleece, one skirt, several quick dry shirts, one cardigan, a pair of  well-loved zip-off outdoors pants, a pair of capris, a pair of Columbia cotton travel pants.  Packed mostly blue hued shirts though and would add a little variety next time. I agree with Sue that a travel dress would be a great addition.  I would still choose a blue one :-D
  • Pashmina in a zip locked bag (Sue's awesome idea to keep threads from being snagged in transit)  We wore these at several of the holy sites.
  • My telephoto lens!  Sue's husband almost had me convinced to leave it behind but why squabble over a mere 1.3 pounds when you have opportunities to get up close to goats without  getting attack by guard dogs or having anything awkward to declare to customs?
  • My Cloudz neck pillow!  It snaps to my backpack and has those little beads of styrofoam inside.  We enjoyed quite a few naps together.
  • Extra plastic baggies (my Keens reeked after two weeks and 60+ miles)
  • The P.T. Pod microfiber towel that my husband asked us to try out.  Weighs just a few ounces, folds into its own built in bag and takes up very little space.  Oh, and it works!  Used it several times including after merrily dowsing myself in a waterfall at En Gedi.
What didn't work? (aside from the blasted water socks) What would I do differently?
Be prepared and bring your own jacket. Not everyone can pull off sharing like these two brothers.
  • Two swimsuits!  (I heartily agree with Sue about the unsuitable nature of cold wet swimwear)
  • Sue's Tupperware water cups rocked while my new collapsible Akanpa water bottle tried to drown me as I attempted to gulp down water on Masada.  It will now be relegated to camping equipment and not for everyday travel.  It also continually felt gritty on the outside despite repeated cleanings  Again, something that won't phase us camping but bugged me at night and  in airports.  By all means though find a water bottle you like as there are stations or at least water fountains in the airports where they encourage refills and most of the tap water in the Israeli hotels tasted fine.  The one exception would be the Ramada in Jerusalem  (and that uber nasty sludge fountain we tried near the Roosevelt Park in DC--Blech!!)
  • Another insight:  the surge protector power adaptors will NOT charge camera batteries regardless of how they appear to be charging!  Good thing I travel with three batteries.  Also, travel with both fat and skinny simple two pin Type C power adapters since the outlets vary. 
  • A light pullover sweater would have been welcome and would have looked nice.  Mornings in Jerusalem were quite chilly and, in spots, windy

That's about it.  No big regrets.  Lots of fabulous memories!

Valley of Elah where David slew Goliath


  1. Wow great post Tamara and Sue! I was very interested to see what worked and did not.
    I'll have to check out the naot shoes, you can get them here in Australia. I'm a big fan of my Birkenstocks but I kinda trashed them by wearing them in the rain for a week and they seem to be in need of replacement.

  2. What great information. Hoping that Israel will be in our travel plans before too long. This will come in handy when planning our trip.

  3. I can't believe Sue broke my green REI pillow. How do you break a pillow??

  4. You two are the "Rick Steves" for Israel. Sounds like an unforgetable trip.

  5. Thanks for this post! I am going to Israel in May, am a photographer and this was the first PRACTICAL packing/trip post I have found. I also live in AL (Tamara), Mobile.

  6. Saving this article to start picking up for my trip.thanks