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April 10, 2018

Answered: Which Birthright Israel trip should I choose?

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There’s not much better than a free trip to Israel. But you only get one, and there are a ton of trip options to choose from. And the organizer of the trip impacts the other people on the trip, where you go, the style of travel, and much more, which makes a big difference in your experience. So how do you figure out the best Birthright trip for you?

There are almost 600 different trips available from 9 organizers! The good news is that there are some easy ways to narrow this down to a manageable number of choices. Don’t get overwhelmed with all of the trip providers and styles of Birthright trips. Instead, start simple by looking at the some of key logistics. Also remember that trips fill up and new trips are added all of the time, so this is a snapshot of the current trips and how the availability might help you choose the right one, and even if things are a little different over time, the same principles apply.

Summary: How Choose a Birthright Israel Trip

When you’re starting to think about your ideal Birthright trip, keep these factors in mind. They’re all important, but you might not be able to find your perfect match. So know that as you’re going through the guide below to help hone in on the right trip, as you make one choice, you may rule out other options — so keep an open mind:

  • Age: How old are you? There are trips targeted towards college students and young professionals (up through age 32, as of 2017, but with limited options)
  • Departure: Where is most convenient to leave from (and does your trip choice offer this departure location?
  • Speciality: Many trip organizers offer trips geared towards specific campuses, communities, professions, outdoor activities, culture, arts, adventure, and religion.
  • Trip Length: Most Birthright trips are 10 days (“the standard”), but all trip organizers also offer 7-day expedited trips. There are also a few organizers who offer extended study abroad trips for 13 days (which include college credit and more in-depth activities)
  • Trip Organizer: There are 9 different organizers to choose among. Some offer similar trips (such as outdoor adventure trips), but others offer something unique. They also each bring their own flavor to the style of trip overall.

Why don’t you start with trip organizers? All my friends talk about their organizer!
You’ll notice that we put the trip organizer lasts in this list, and we did it on purpose. BirthrightGuru recommends not starting with the trip organizer — but don’t skip over reviewing completely. We just think that the best way to choose a trip from the hundreds of options is to narrow down the selection with a few basic preferences, see what organizers match up with the smaller pool of choices, and then review them to make a match. You’ll likely find that if you pick a trip that works for you the organizer will be great! There are very few “red flags” with the organizers overall. And if you pick something specialized, like a trip with your campus, community, or personal passion, you’re likely to jive with the organizer too. That said, there are some that have a religious or academic slant, which might not be your top pick, and you might decide it’s worth getting to a different departure city or even traveling without your college friends to try something different.

Oy! So much to consider — but don’t worry

In the end, there is certainly a trip that will match your style! The organizers and the Birthright program overall are interested in making people comfortable on their trip and stress the openness and acceptance of this program to people from diverse backgrounds.

Before you go on, please note! This is a guide focused on US-based travelers, so if you’re thinking about traveling from one of the many other countries with Birthright Israel programs, please don’t limit yourself to this information. Also, no one person has gone on every single Birthright trip with every organizer, so what might seem overly academic to one participant might be just what another is looking. Seek out lots of information, ask questions of the organization, and make sure you find a great fit — we’re here to help with an unbiased, simple guide, and hope you find it useful.

The Basics

How old are you?

First, start with something really easy: How old are you? All organizers currently offer trips for people who are between 18 and 32 years old (a big jump in 2017 from the previous cutoff of 26), but the choices are limited. There are only 12 trips out of the hundreds of options that cater to people ages 27-32. So if you’re in that range, you have a much easier choice, but also fewer options. If you’re between 18 and 26 you have many more options, so read on to find the best one.

Where do you live (and want to leave from)?

The advantage of having 9 organizers and hundreds of trips across the United States means that there are trips leaving from many big cities, including one that’s likely close to you. It’s a nice improvement over the past where most trips left only from NYC and Miami (and you have to pay to get yourself there)! Plus, it’s an easy way to narrow down the options (with the slight exception of the most specialized trips — more on that later).

Birthright trips leave from 13 different major US cities, covering both costs and the midwest:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Austin
  3. Boston
  4. Chicago
  5. Dallas
  6. Houston
  7. Los Angeles
  8. Miami
  9. New York
  10. Philadelphia
  11. San Diego
  12. San Francisco
  13. Washington

See a city close to you? Start by checking out the trips that leave from there (and fit your age). You’ll likely save a good amount of money getting to the official Birthright departure location. Don’t always expect a direct flight from your departure location (Chicago, for example has literally no direct flights to Israel). Even without a direct flight, leaving some somewhere close and convenient will give you a much more enjoyable travel itinerary and save a many headaches should some travel problems arise — it’s much better to be traveling with the group and have the resources of Birthright and your trip organizer to reroute and rebook as needed than to be trying to make it to the departure location by yourself (you might get left behind!).

Even with all of those advantages, don’t rule out heading to a different city to leave on your trip. All of the organizers have trips leaving from LA and NYC and many from Miami and Chicago. This is especially true for the speciality trips, so if you’re thinking about a foodie trip or a trip designed specifically for filmmakers from LA, don’t limit by departure!

How long do you have to travel?

Most Birthright trips are 10 days, which is a sweet spot length to see a ton of the country, participate in diverse activities, and make it back in time for classes to start up again after spring break or get back to your office. If you are limited on time, there are also a smaller set of 7-day trips that compress the itinerary. 10 days is ideal because it expands the range of activities and gives more time to experience the local culture, but don’t miss out if 7 days fits best. It’s a small country and you can see a lot in that amount of time. Plus, you’ll be back! You can be out of the office for just one week of work and experience a whole new world before you’re back at your desk.

There are also a few trips from organizers that offer an extended, immersive 13 day experience as a type of mini study abroad. These trips typically have a specific focus and include spending an extended amount of time focused on that topic rather than the typical frenetic pass of a Birthright trip and are also often in partnership with a local Israeli educational institution that is renowned for the topic at hand. A really special choice if you have the time and the interest!

Who do you want to go with?

If you know that you want to travel with other kids from your campus, there are options for many universities (and all are likely to have great departure destinations close to your school!). If you’re a young professional, you also have options to go with other people from your current city. This is a great option if you have friends at school you want to travel with to Israel and means that there are more options to meet and get to know people before your trip and more chances to continue to hang out with people after the trip, compared to a general trip that draws nationally. Finally, there are a few affinity trips, such as those for alumni of particular youth groups. If you have a strong bond with a group of people and you know you want to travel with them, check these out!

Pro tip: Don’t rule out leaving your campus friends behind and traveling on a trip to meet new people — especially if one of the speciality trips matches your interest and works for your logistics. Having a trip match your interests with like-minded people is often the better choice than friends that you see all the time. Use your Israel experience to make some new friends in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Beyond the basics: Speciality Trips

In addition to campus and community trips, many Birthright organizers offer tons of speciality trips. If you find a match with your interests, this is a really special way to travel on Birthright. Speciality trips give you the advantage of going beyond the typical Birthright itinerary with activities that match your passions, and you do it all with like-minded peers.

Worried about missing out on some “must see” stuff in Israel? For better or worse, you’re not going to see it all. If you spend more time relaxing in a Tel Aviv cafe and on the beaches, you’ll have less time to see the sites. If you wait in every line at every historical site, you’ll spend less time soaking up the local culture. It’s a balance. YOu won’t see it all, so don’t try. Birthright Israel is an incredible intro to Israel. Hopefully you’ll want to come back (that’s definitely something the program hopes to achieve!), and when you do, you’ll have the advantage of being there before, having a little more comfort in a foreign country, and you’ll also have checked off a few of the key sites, so you can spend more time on future trips going to the places that you like to visit the most and maybe some off the beaten path.

Important note: Speciality trips are the most likely to change over time, with the few available filling up and maybe even organizers adding a few. Classic trips from each organizer are much more likely to always be available. Check the Birthright website for the most updated availability.

Accessible

One of the most amazing things about Birthright is that the program is open and accepting of all people who want to travel to Israel, and that includes trips specifically designed for people with any kind of special need. Trips include tours led by guides in sign language, speciality equipment and staff to accommodate comfortably those with special physical needs, and trained staff to ensure the trip is a wonderful experience for all who attend. There is also a trip open to those who are in recovery from addiction, and offers an itinerary through Israel without alcohol but without sacrifice of the spiritual, religious, cultural, and adventures available in the country, along with a unique chance to visit recovery centers in Israel and meet Israeli peers fighting the same challenges.

Outdoor and adventures

One of the most common types of speciality trips amps up the adventure and outdoor activities. Typical activities include hiking (more than the typical trip), rappelling, rafting, paintballing, and biking. There’s even a SCUBA diving trip where participants dive with the Israeli Navy!

Arts & Culture

These trips take the opposite approach from the adventure speciality options and cut back on the outdoor adventures to spend more time in cultural institutions (if you like being inside, this might be a great choice!) and within city limits. You’ll still hit a few of the major sites outside the cities (Israel is a small country, so travel time won’t limit you), but the focus stays on the cultural centers, and substitutes in activities such as jam sessions and workshops with Israeli artists.

Spiritual

The Birthright spiritual speciality trips range from a focus on religion to mysticism to yoga. Trips targeted towards Orthodox Jews offer more time in the most holy sites as well as accommodation for religious travelers (including single-gender trips for participants who feel more comfortable traveling this way)

LGBTQ+

These trips offer participants the chance to travel with people in the community, including both other participants and the Israelis involved in the programming, and specialized programming, including meeting community activists in Israel, trips to LGBTQ+ organizations, and even a chance to participate in and meet with the organizers of the Tel Aviv Pride Parade!

Foodie

Israel is an amazing country for foodies, especially if you love the fresh and light flavors in classic mediterranean cuisine.

Professional

Many organizers offer industry-focused trips that cater to young professionals who want to experience Israel with industry peers and a more refined focus than the typical itinerary. Some trips draw from locations across the country with a shared interest, such as the trips focused on social justice and startups and entrepreneurship. Other trips are even more narrow, and take participants from a specific industry in a specific place, such as political insiders from DC, Wall Street bankers, and entertainment pros from Hollywood and LA.

Extended Study Abroad

Study abroad trips are a lesser-known option for Birthright Israel, but worthy of your consideration. These trips are 13 days long, involve a more intensive and focused itinerary, with the opportunity to get deep into a specific topic of interest and the connection to Israel, while earning 3 college credits. There is something here for lots of areas of interest, including diplomacy in the Middle East and counter-terrorism for those interested in geo-politics and the future of the Jewish state in a volatile region, archeology for participants looking to get their hands dirty in the soil of the State of Israel while working alongside historians and anthropologists uncovering the mysteries of the land, and innovation and entrepreneurship for budding startup founders or tech geeks who want to look to the future of Israel and it’s incredible prowess in new technology and product development.

 

Meet your trip organizer

Now that you know what you’re options are, consider closely the organizer planning the trip. This is critical for every Birthright traveler: Whether you’re limited to a 7-day trip leaving from NYC because you’re 32 and that’s the only option or you’re set on a speciality trip focused on the outdoors, you’ll have multiple trip organizers with similar trips available. And even if you don’t seem to have a lot of choices, make sure you check out the organizer and understand the vibe of the trip before committing 100%. If it’s not a good match, it might be worth waiting or changing plans to find a new trip to go on. The organizer makes a huge impact on the trip, and it’s not always clear right up from from the organizer’s name and trip name how the trip will feel once you’re there. It’s worth a few minutes of review.

(Yes, there are some speciality trips that literally only have one trip organizer as an option. Still, check out the organizer a bit more to learn how the trip will go to be sure that the specialized focus is worth any potential downsides. If they’re the only one offering a special trip and you feel strongly about that topic, there’s a good chance that you’ll get along great! Still, check it out below).

First, check out our organizer guide for an unbiased snapshot of the trip organizers and their trip options. Also, keep checking back as we grow our collection of interviews and guest posts from people who travel with the Birthright organizers and report back on their trips as well as our own original research as we learn more about organizers from stories from around the web (we’ll bring them all into one, easy-to-ready place). Also, check out reviews on Facebook, ask friends (and friends of friends about their experiences), and read the marketing materials provided by the organizers. And finally, ask questions of the organizer. All of their contact information is available from the Birthright website, and you’ll be glad you got to know them early on, whether you go on the trip or don’t.

Amazing Israel

Amazing Israel is a seasoned trip organizer and tour company based in Jerusalem. Their focus is on memorable Birthright trips, and they bring their expertise from planning tons of tours in Israel for B’nai Mitzvot, family trips, conferences, and more. Their claim is for “out of the box” Israel trips, but their itinerary is typical of the standard version. Not a problem, but don’t get sold by the marketing only. In reality, they’re a professional tour operator at heart, and should be trusted to provide an excellent trip. Amazing Israel is not affiliated with any religious movement and is vocal about accepting participants from all backgrounds on their trips.

Facebook Reviews: 4.8/5 stars (44 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Outdoors/Adventures
Entertainment Professionals
Urban and Culture

Departures: Boston, Dallas, LA, NYC

Ezra World

Ezra World has roots in a youth movement focused on connecting Russian Jews to their community, and their Birthright trips grew out of the organization as it expanded to new avenues of connecting Jews to their heritage. Now, they points out especially that their staff are all Americans who made the choice to come to Israel, who are now immersed in Israeli society, and who attended the best Israeli tour guide educational programs. Technically, Ezra world is affiliated with the Orthodox Judaism movement, so expect more than the average amount of time spent on religious connections to Israel and Zionism, though the organizers clearly point out that they are open to all participants. Ezra World also offers speciality trips, including a foodie-focused itinerary and a trip organized around world-renowned startups and entrepreneurship in Israel.

Facebook Reviews: 4.3/5 stars (43 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Outdoors/Adventures
Foodie
Startups and Entrepreneurship
Single Gender

Departures: Austin, LA, New York

Hillel

Hillel is a campus-based organization, so their focus is on college students and university-specific trips. If you want to travel with friends from school, there’s a good chance that Hillel is planning a trip leaving from campus (and departing from a nearby big city, unless you’re in the midwest!). They are not limited to college campuses, and offers speciality trips and trips for all ages like the other trip organizers, including one of the most adventurous trips in the entire program: Israel Underwater, which takes participants SCUBA diving in Israel with Israeli Navy divers! Hillel is non-denominational, but definitely a religious organization. They also have a reputation during classic and campus trips for taking more time for deep conversations and learning, rather than focusing on adventure or experiencing the culture. Mostly expect a typical itinerary, with that slight extra focus on religion and activities designed (and sometimes feeling forced) to create meaningful connections among participants and to Israel, in addition to the speciality trips offered by this organizer.

Facebook Reviews: Not reviewed

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Campuses (many!)
Underwater: SCUBA dive with Israel Navy divers
LGBT Pride Trip to Tel Aviv Pride Parade
Yoga and Mindfulness
American Sign Language

Departures: Atlanta, LA, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego

Israel Outdoors

Israel Outdoors lives up to their name, but also goes so far beyond. On an Israel Outdoors Israel by Foot or Israel by Bike trip, expect more time outdoors, breaking a sweat. They also offer many speciality trips, including multiple extended study abroad, cultural, campus, and accessible trips (the most offerings of any provider). They even offer a one-of-a-kind USA-Argentina joint trip. And all of these trips are offered with departures from the most cities out of all trip organizers. Israel Outdoors is an experienced Israeli tour operator based in Tel Aviv (with offices in Washington, DC), and have earned a reputation for participants who want to travel to Israel and take extra advantage of the incredible natural beauty of the country and the spirit of adventure. As expected, they’re non-denominational and open to participants from all backgrounds.

Facebook Reviews: 4.7/5 stars (98 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Campus
Study abroad extended trips (diplomacy, archeology)
Outdoors/Adventures (biking and hiking)
Culture (film and food)
Mindfulness and Spirituality
LGBTQ
Special Needs
USA-Argentina Joint Trip
Social Justice

Departures: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, LA, Miami, NYC, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington

Mayanot Israel

Mayanot is a unique trip organizer — they’re affiliated with both the academically-oriented Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and the religiously-inclined Chabad. This overlap is definitely their niche: Expect a wonderful tour of Israel on your Birthright trip, with a consistent theme of deep learning and a spiritual connections to the land and to Judaism. You’ll definitely see this priority in their choice of staff. In addition to traditional Israeli tour guides, Mayanot Israel Birthright trips include Jewish educators and rabbis. They’re affiliated with the Orthodox Judaism movement, but open to all participants. This organizer does not offer the most departure options, but they cover the east coast, west coast, and midwest, making their distinctive portfolio of trips very logistically accessible to all those interested.

Facebook Reviews: 4.4/5 stars (116 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Campus
Extended Study Abroad (counter-terrorism and conflict resolution)
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Outdoors/Adventures
Vegans and Vegetarians / Animal Rights
Single Gender

Departures: Chicago, LA, Miami, NYC

OU Israel Free Spirit

OU Israel Free Spirit is an offshoot of the Orthodox Union, which is the largest Kosher certification organization in the world. But don’t think that all of their trips are about traditional religion and prayer. In fact, Israel Free Spirit is another trip organizer vocal about their acceptance of all participants from all Jewish affiliations, with an extremely diverse selection of trips (with the only downside of only leaving from 3 departure cities). This trip organizer is the only one to offer a trip specifically built for those young adult Jews recovering from substance addiction. In addition to providing a sensitive completely sober experience for the entire trip, this itinerary goes deeper and offers participants a chance to visit and learn about treatment centers in Israel and engage with Israelis going through the same experience. It’s a special opportunity for those who may otherwise feel excluded from Birthright Israel trips. Israel Free Spirit also offers special medical needs trips with special staff, equipment, and itineraries. Fitting with their name, there is also a Kabbalah and Mysticism trip, offering a noteworthy experience for those seeking a spiritual connection to Israel outside of the traditional religions. And if a traditional religious experience is more your speed, there are trips for Modern Orthodox men and women (single gender). Or if your religious experience was connected to the JSU/NCSY youth group movements, they offer an alumni trip to reconnect with friends! Not to be left out, they too offer an adventurous trip and an itinerary focused on arts and culture. Don’t let the name fool you, and be sure to check out OU Israel Free Spirit that may be a great match for you.

Facebook Reviews: Not reviewed

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Renewal and Recovery
Medical Special Needs
Outdoors/Adventures
Modern Orthodox Single Gender
Kabbalah and Mysticism
JSU/NCSY Alumni
Arts, Music, and Entertainment

Departures: LA, Miami, NYC

Sachlav Israel on the House

Sachlav Israel on the House is a straightforward, unaffiliated, Israel-based Birthright trip organizer. They fit in a sweet spot for adventurous travelers who shy away from extreme adventure trips, but are looking for a really exciting itinerary. Sachlav Israel on the House has clearly thought through their trip timing, logistics, and plans very well to deliver wonderful experiences. They don’t offer a ton of specialized trips, but they do offer some unique options, including their own take on the LGBTQ experience and a special all-women Modern Orthodox trip with all female IDF soldiers, plus an amped-up adventure option for those looking for more hiking, rappelling, and camping. They also only leave from 3 cities on the coasts, so they might not be the most logistically friendly for all participants.

Facebook Reviews: 4.7/5 stars (106 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Outdoors/Adventures
LGBTQ
All Women Modern Orthodox

Departures: LA, Miami, NYC

Shorashim

Shorashim offers the unique opportunity to spend the entire trip with Israelis by your side. They’re also known for creating top-rated itineraries across a number of speciality trip options and their classic itinerary. Combine their reputation, trip options, and the second highest number of departure cities, and you’re looking at a solid trip organizer for many trip participants for Birthright Israel! Shorashim is another provider to offer extended study abroad options, in this case, focused on Israeli Multiculturalism. Definitely a great option to enhance your learning and overall experience in Israel (plus pickup a few college credits, if useful). They also offer trips focused on LGBTQ with a trip to Tel Aviv Pride Parade, food, outdoor adventures, spiritual self-discovery, and regional industries (including DC politics and Wall Street finance).

Facebook Reviews: 4.7/5 stars (57 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Outdoors/Adventures
LGBTQ
Foodie
Culture
Spiritual Self-Discovery
Regional/Industry Communities (DC politics, Wall Street finance)

Boston, Chicago, LA, Miami New York Washington

Yael Adventures

Yael Adventures has the distinction of being a tour company not just for Israel but for Israelis. In fact, their claim to fame is that they are one of the largest tour companies in Israel for Israeli schools and other institutions. This experience can serve them well when planning Birthright Israel trips, especially if you’re looking for a classic itinerary (they only offer a few specialized trips) with the knowledge that they are not catering to only to the basic touristy spots, but rather to travelers who want a true Israel travel experience with some lesser-known spots. This organizer offers only one specialized trip, designed for those looking for even more adventure on the itinerary (plus the same extreme adventure for women only). They also don’t offer many departure cities.

Facebook Reviews: 4.3/5 stars (38 reviews)

Trips:
Classic (10-day and 7-day)
Outdoor/Adventures
Outdoor/Adventures (women-only)

Departure cities: LA, Miami, NYC

What are you waiting for?

Mazel tov, you made it to the end! You’re now a Birthright Israel expert. So what are you waiting for? We hope this guide was helpful in making a selection about a trip. Now that you have these insights, we hope you feel more prepared to choose a trip. If you are curious about more aspects of traveling to Israel, check out our other blog posts — and share them with your mom or nana if they’re worried about the trip. And don’t delay! A free trip to Israel is an incredible experience, even if you don’t end up on the “perfect” trip. You’ll see a fascinating country, meet amazing people on your trip and Israelis, and eat delicious food. And when you get back, get in touch and tell us how it was!

Ready to sign up? Once you know which trip you want to join, head over to the main Taglit Birthright Israel page and get started.

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