fbpx
May 3, 2018

Birthright Israel Packing Guide

By 0 4638 Views

If you’re reading this page, you’re either calmly looking for some advice on what to bring on your Birthright Israel trip or freaking out about how to pack. If that’s you, don’t worry! Yes, this is a longer-than-average trip with tons of activities, which means you’ll want to bring the right stuff. But stay calm and take solace in knowing that it’s actually pretty easy to pack for. Plus, Israel is a modern country — almost anything you need, you can find.

Packing Strategy

First, let’s talk about how you should pack and what should be on the top of your mind before we get to the specific details. Ready to throw stuff in a bag? Skip over this and jump ahead to the lists!

Bring enough clothes

Bring enough clothes for the entire trip because there is no time for laundry and many days will require an outfit change (sometimes up to 3 outfits in one day!). You’ll see that we recommend a light packing strategy with a smaller, carry on bag and also share some tips below on how to do that while still having enough clothes for all of the activities (for example, wearing a technical t-shirt to wick sweat away for a hike, which you can wash in a sink and dry overnight for use again on the trip). On this point, also throw a few extra plastic bags in your bag for use during the day. You’ll be glad you did when you can throw a wet bathing suit in a plastic bag rather than right in your backpack or suitcase as you rush off to an activity after a swim!

Understand the cultural context

Israel is a religious country and modesty is appropriate at many religious sites, including the Western Wall and on Shabbat. Men should plan to wear pants, a nicer (probably collared) shirt, and dressier shoes. Women should wear pants or a longer skirt or dress and a sweater or shawl to cover their shoulders.

Limit the valuable stuff you take along

You’re always moving around, packing, unpacking, and staying in bustling tourist areas. Keep your nicest Jewelry, laptops, fancy suits, and more at home.

Pay attention to the season of travel

This guide is designed as a baseline for all Birthright trips, including classic, campus, and niche trips — including adventure and outdoors. We have notes in each section that explain where to focus more for different types of trips or a specific season. It’s also important to remember that in any season Israel has a wide variety of climates, so you might find yourself on a warm beach one day and on a chilly hillside the next!

Israel basically only has two seasons:

Winter runs from around October to March. Winter temperatures aren’t “winter” temperatures if you’re coming from the midwest or east coast of the United States — temperatures typically range from the 40s to the 70s. Breathable layers are still a good idea in the winter, along with a few additional layers to combat cooler temperatures, wind, and rain. This is where you see serious rain in Israel, starting light and getting heavier into March. Most of the time it’s too cold to swim in the Mediterranean in winter, but the Dead Sea and Eilat areas stay plenty warm. You won’t really see snow unless you’re way up high in the mountains.

Summer runs from around March through October. Summer temperatures ranges from the 60s to over 100 degrees, depending on the location. If you’re traveling in the summer, bring light and breathable clothes for outdoor adventures and even just walking around cities or sites plus a light layer for chilly evenings. Don’t expect rain, but heat waves can impact your itinerary and make it necessary to stay inside for a while!

Where to shop

We are big shoppers at REI and Amazon. REI is absolutely the best when it comes to high-quality outdoor and travel gear and even some stylish clothes that are great for travel. They have a 100 day satisfaction guarantee and will take returns during that time for pretty much any reason. After that, they still guarantee that the product functions as intended and that lasts for life

Amazon has a ton of variety. Unlike REI, you can’t be sure that something on there is high-quality because, well, pretty much everything is on there. But, if you have Prime (or even if you don’t) and want stuff shipped to you from a store with the best selection, it’s the place to go. And if do you have a problem, they’re also really reasonable to work with to find a fix . If you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can sign up for a 30 day free trial and take advantage during your travel shopping (it’s extended to 6 months if you’re a student!).

Also, don’t miss your local outdoor store. That’s a place to go to get some passionate advice about a pair of boots, backpack, or the perfect lightweight jacket. Many will even price-match REI and Amazon, and it’s always nice to support a local business!

The Basics

Passport and Passport Holder

Grab a passport wallet to hold your passport and assorted boarding passes and visas (Israel does not stamp passports and instead provides a separate paper visa) to keep organized while you travel. Bellroy makes one of the best: It’s slim, stylish, and extremely functional (it even has a tiny pen to make sure you are never without one when filling out custom forms!). It’s a pricey piece at $100, so make sure it’s worth the investment. This Dash & Co. sleeve is very similar to the Bellroy, with the addition of RFID blocking technology to make sure thieves can’t digitally swipe your passport in the airport. We prefer the sleeve design because many immigration checkpoints require the passport to be removed completely from any holder anyways. But, if you prefer a wallet-style where you can leave the passport in for some inspections (usually boarding planes works just fine), EpicGadgets makes a nice leather version, also with RFID blocking. Finally, make a few copies of your passport. Leave one with someone trusted back in America and bring another copy with you — but store it separately from your actual passport!

Money

We recommend starting the trip with about $300. You can exchange some of the cash for Shekels (Israeli currency, which is usually approximately 3.5 Shekels / 1 dollar) or use an ATM card to take money out of the bank in local currency. Birthright is free, but some meals are on your own, and you’ll definitely want to grab your own snacks and drinks in a few places. Plus, you’re going to grab some souvenirs. $300 is also a lot and if you don’t want to spend that much, you won’t have to. Still good to have it in case you need for any reason. Note: Israeli Shekels are more dependent on coins, so consider bringing a zippered pouch or coin wallet to handle your money.

Visa and Mastercard are also very common in Israel. But before you go, make sure the debit or credit card you’re using has no foreign transaction fees. NerdWallet maintains great lists of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, which means you can pay with credit and not pay an additional fee for the privilege of shopping in Israel, and debit cards with no foreign transaction withdrawal fees, which means you can withdraw money from an ATM in Israel without paying an extra fee (on top of any usual ATM fees). For this purpose, you cannot beat Charles Schwab debit cards: No ATM fees on any times and no foreign transaction fees!

Phone

You’re going to want your phone. It’s the only way to keep in touch with friends on the trip and family at home, pull up Google Maps when you’re lost, and maybe even do some on-the-fly translation in Google Translate. Cell phones are part of the Israeli culture — read about the fascinating history of the devices in Israel, which took over back in 1997!

There are two ways to use your phone in Israel: Sign up and pay for an international calling plan or get a new Israeli SIM card to use with your unlocked phone. The SIM card is definitely cheaper (something like $30 for unlimited use for two weeks in Israel), but you also have to make sure you have an unlocked phone with the right network and use a new number. International calling plans are more expensive but allow you to walk right off the plan and use your phone like you’re at home. (Another option is getting an Israeli cell phone, but it’s pretty easy to make sure your phone is unlocked and SIMs are widely available.)

Israeli SIM

We recommend simply buying a SIM through the provider that partners with the trip you’re going on. This makes it a little more likely that you’re going to get one that works, and if it absolutely, you can try to ask your trip organizer for some help (since they made the connection). For example, here is Amazing Israel’s page on SIM rentals.

International Travel Plans

AT&T and Verizon both have really convenient options with their day passes, which allow you to use your normal American plan in Israel. It’s a little pricey at $10/day, so you’d spend about $100 if you used it every day. However, you only pay for the days you use, so you can keep your phone off on the days where you’re at the same site or area all day and don’t want to call home. Both also offer other billing options, but they’re either too limited, too expensive, or too complicated to figure out (if you’re going to track every minute of calls and MB of data use, get a local SIM and save the money).

Sprint and T-Mobile also both coverage in Israel, but no day pass option. Some plans from each provider include global coverage for data, but not calls. Since these options are more confusing, make sure you read the fine print!

Bring on the Plane

Change of Clothes

Pack at least underwear, socks, and an extra t-shirt in your plane bag to be ready for a quick change upon landing in Israel. Especially important if you check your bag!

Headphones

These are critical for long (10+ hour) flights and the longer bus rides, especially when you need a moment for yourself. Also great for the hotel rooms when you need some quiet, help falling asleep in downtown Tel Aviv, or just a moment of zen.

The bluetooth-capable Bose QuietComfort 35 are the absolute best noise canceling headphones. They have incredible sound, comfortable fit, wireless connectivity, optional standard audio plug (great for planes) and micro USB charging. The gold standard. Of course, you pay for it at over $300. Samsung makes a great pair for about $100, but the noise canceling is definitely not as good. If you’re willing to sacrifice the wireless Bluetooth connectivity, you can grab a consistently highly-reviewed pair from Audio Technica for about $100 with great noise-canceling.

There’s also an option to go with earbuds, which are more compact and more versatile for daily use. Bose also makes the best noise-canceling earbuds, which include a mode where you can temporarily remove the noise canceling with the touch of a button, which also come in a wireless model (with a large plastic ring you wear around your neck).

The QuietComfort 35 are hands-down one of the best purchases we ever made. Incredible for planes, coffee shops, and any other place you can imagine. They’re so comfortable and the sound is so good, we’re not sure what we did before. Combine these with the magical Apple AirPods, and you have the perfect set of headphones (the AirPods are truly magical, but are the opposite of noise canceling and are even too quiet for some planes). Combine Bose QuietComfort for travel and intense work and Airpods for walking around or taking phone calls and you’re set.

Airplane Pillow

The best one is made by Travelrest. It’s incredibly comfortable, soft, and supportive memory foam, which means it supports your neck and head much better than anything inflatable and stuffs down to a reasonable size. You can get smaller pillows and you can get cheaper pillows, but this is worth it. After a 10+ hour flight, you’ll be thankful. Also, don’t wait until you get to the airport to pay even more for a regular neck pillow you can’t squish down and end up lugging around!

Eye mask

Most flights will have some time dedicated to sleep and will have the lights dimmed, but that time might not line up with your body’s clock and you can’t stop the guy in 24D from watching bright movies all “night long.” Easy fix with a sleep mask. This will also come in handy for naps on the bus and sleeping in hotel rooms. This top-rated eye-mask guarantees you sleep anytime, anywhere, and includes an intelligently-designed cup design to keep the pressure off of your eyes while blocking out the light. Personally, we actually like a little pressure on our eyes with a mask, and if that’s your preference, this Lewis and Clark mask is the perfect fit.

Ear plugs

Essential for air travel and even more important if you don’t end up bringing the noise canceling headphones. Grab 50 pairs of Mack’s famous foam earplugs, bring a few pairs for the trip, and maybe even share with your seatmate and make a new best friend!

Stuff to read

You simply cannot beat an Amazon Kindle for ebook reading. It’s extremely lightweight, holds thousands of books, is easy on the eyes to read (nothing like the backlight of an iPhone or iPad), holds a charge for a month, and costs less than $100. Plus it helps you save money by cutting costs on books: You can easily check out free ebooks from your local library, read the thousands of Amazon Prime books for free, or buy cheap titles (many under $3). The Kindle Paperweight is our top pick out of the available models because of the quality and value you get for the low price, and the built-in light (again, not blue light from an iPhone) is worth the upgrade. The classic Kindle is a great bargain buy at $59. At the other end of the spectrum, the Kindle Oasis is a nice upgrade pick if you want a bigger screen, waterproof device, and adaptive lighting.

For more multimedia options, consider bringing a tablet — but heed the warning about not bringing anything too fragile or valuable. We’ve always found a Kindle more travel-worthy than tablets, but understand you might need to binge watch The Crown on Netflix while traveling (pro tip: you can download episodes on your home wifi to watch offline on the plane!). The iPad is an incredible tablet, and the mini is the perfect size to watch and read on while traveling. Yes, you can read on it, but the light is a lot harder on your eyes. Amazon also has a great option with the Fire series, including a 7-inch model for $39.99, which allows you watch on most of the major apps and read your Kindle books. This is a great option for traveling!

Snacks

Most flights have two meals, but always good to have something to snack on between or if you really don’t like the airplane food when you’re onboard for 12+ hours!

What to Pack In

Before you really start packing, think about what all of your stuff goes in. Spend a minute to make sure you have the right bag for your Birthright Israel trip. You have the unique challenge of packing for 10 action-packed days in a bag that you’ll haul every 1-3 days. This bag also has to go up and down stairs, on and off buses, and across some unpaved areas. This is especially important if you’re going on an adventure trip!

We here at BirthrightGuru are advocates for lightweight packing in an easy-to-carry bag that goes onto the plane. If you’re wondering if you can fit everything you need into something this small, stop wondering. You can. Think about the freedom you’ll feel from a rolling bag and how easy to move around. Don’t forget: the less you pack, the less you have to unpack and repack at each stop!

Our advice: pack light

We take some inspiration from “real” minimalist packers who only travel with one hiking backpack and one daypack. But we prefer luggage designed for travel rather than actual backpacking. Breeze through airports, up and down steps, and baggage claim while your less-prepared bus-mates hold their breath for their bag and then drag their wheeled luggage through the sand! If that’s not you, we have recommendations for classic spinner carry-on bags and even checked luggage.

Our favorite bag is the Eagle Creek Gear Hauler. It’s a backpack that’s optimized for exactly this kind of travel. You’ll be able to fit everything you need in an easy-to-access bag and comfortably carry it through any terrain. The design of the bottom is a great feature: It’s a single piece of waterproof fabric, so you can put it down in anything — mud, dust, puddles, you name it — and the bag will protect your gear. Plus, it’s easy to wipe down. It also serves to keep the zippers facing your back, so your bag is protected from prying hands while you’re on a crowded bus or train. And once you pop those zippers open, you’ll have full access to the inside of the bag for simple packing.
The Gear Hauler also has a small front pocket with a laptop sleeve, tablet sleeve, and small mesh compartment. The bottom has another small external pouch that is perfect for shoes or dirty clothes.

Eagle Creek Gear Hauler

Another favorite is the upstart company Tortuga’s Outbreaker Travel Backpack. This is a nice upgrade if you are planning on doing more walking with your bag, on Birthright or beyond. Features like the padded waist strap make this travel backpack even easier to carry. The design makes it still easy to pack and access.

This crew also makes some awesome travel gear beyond suitcases, including the best packable backpack on the market!

Tortuga Travel Pack

We also know that there are some folks who still fit the minimalist traveler profile but want a more typical carry-on bag. The Wirecutter does incredible research on tons of products, including luggage, and for a spinner bag they recommend the Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 — we trust them on this one (but have less experience with this than the more adventure-focused bags).

This is still a great pick because you can carry it onboard and it won’t be too hard to grab it by a handle to lift for loading and unloading, or the occasional stairs (maybe you’re rethinking that you might actually want a backpack?!). In the end, any bag of this style or similar will work, so if you already have something this size you want to use or want to grab a cheap bag from Amazon, such as this hard-sided spinner from Amazon Basics for <$50, or a discount store), your trip won’t suffer.

Travelpro Platinum Magna 2 Carry-On Expandable Rollaboard Suiter Suitcase, 22-in., Black

When it comes to wheels, our top pick is the Osprey Sojourn (22” 45L) adventure rolling bag. It’s a compromise because it brings wheels into the picture without sacrificing great features of performance luggage, including hideaway backpack straps! This gives you the option of rolling when it makes sense and then busting out the straps when needed.

The carry-on approved bag has a large main compartment with a huge opening, smaller zippered compartment, durable wheels, and cinch-straps. The external straps are useful to get that last extra inch of bulk into the bag or to clip on a travel pillow or jacket. Don’t forget: one secret for minimalist packing is to wear or otherwise keep the biggest stuff out of the bag!).

Osprey Sojourn 45

We caution against it, but know that there is a time and a place for a larger bag. And if it’s your style, Birthright Israel trips might be one of those places. A bigger bag is harder to move no matter what you choose, but you can still choose wisely and make it a bit easier. We also recommend the larger version of the Osprey Sojourn bag, which forgoes the backpack straps but still comes with a super-durable build, strong wheels, and great handles. In general, we recommend a rolling duffel rather than a typical rolling bag here because of the amount of time you’ll be grabbing a handle to carry it or pull it off a bus.

Pro tip: Especially if you’re bringing a suitcase this large, weigh your bag before you got to the airport to make sure you’re it’s allowed on your airline and that you’re not going to incur any extra charges — which you will have to pay!

Osprey Sojourn Wheeled Luggage, 28-Inch/80-Liter

Daypack – Your other bag

You absolutely must also bring a smaller “daypack” style backpack. And yes, it has to be a backpack. This will serve as everything from your personal item on the (long) plane ride to store everything you need for the flight and as your daily bag to carry everything you need for the activities of the day, which will often be multiple and involve a wardrobe change (or two). You can’t go wrong with a classic, reliable choice from North Face, such as the Recon.

Packable backpacks

Another great option for traveling on Birthright (and beyond) is to throw a packable backpack into your suitcase. This is really helpful if you are striving for minimalist packing and need all of the space in your carry-on suitcase and main “personal item” on the plane (the bag that goes under the seat in front of you). Instead of having to unpack all of your flight gear from your daypack, unwrap a packable daypack at each destination and throw just what you need in it for each activity. Some stuff will be consistent, but you’ll also want to switch it up depending on if you’re headed to a beach day in Tel Aviv or the Dead Sea or a hike in the dessert. Our top pick is the Setout Packable Daypack from Tortuga. This is a great looking and functional bag, which includes a small front zippered compartment, padded mesh shoulder straps, mesh back panel, and side water bottle pockets. It’s a little pricey at $39, and you can save some money by going with the Herschel Supply Co. packable backpack ($24), which also has a small zippered pocket and is quite stylish, or the AmazonBasics version ($15), which isn’t quite as stylish, but does have two awesome side water bottle pockets.

Luggage accessories

Once you have your bags setup, make sure to add a luggage tag with your name on it (these are some of the toughest out there, sure to hold up to the adventures of Birthright). Bonus: Pick up some tags that bright in color to distinguish your bags from the 40 other people on your bus!

If you’re checking a bag (despite our suggestion not to!) be sure to weigh your bag before you head to the airport. Birthright covers the plane tickets, but not the overweight bag fees. Be sure to check your airline’s luggage policy and then use a luggage scale like this affordable option from AmazonBasics to make sure your bag makes weight.  

What You’re Going to Wear

Shoes

Now you’re ready to pack! The first thing to think about is shoes. You have to get this right. Think about this early because shoes take up a lot of room, so they’ll have a big impact on what else you bring (depending on your suitcase), and if you need new ones, you will want to have plenty of time to try them on and break them in. Also, we know a lot of travelers are in college or young pros, and don’t have tons of money to spend on gear for the trip. This is one area where you don’t want to be cheap: Buy the best you can afford when it comes to shoes. Bring a cheaper bag, buy a few fewer souvenirs, or save up a bit — it’s worth it. Equally important for shoes is to try them on! We love REI for their large selection of high-quality goods and extremely generous return policy, including on shoes. If you have one in your area, be sure to check that out for shoes and more.

No surprise, you need comfortable walking shoes. This can be sneakers, hiking shoes, or lightweight hiking boots. For trips focused on urban environments with less outdoor time, consider something like these stylish Nike shoes (for men and women), which can go everywhere from light hikes to casual bars and restaurants (which is pretty much every establishment in Israel). Somewhere in the middle is a relatively new gear category of hiking shoes — more support than normal sneakers but without the bulk of a really rugged boot. We’ve owned Salomon hiking shoes (for men and women) for many years and appreciate the combo sophisticated and technical look. The quick-draw laces are a huge plus for trips where you’re waking up tired from the night before and you have to quickly get out the door! For outdoor and hiking-focused trips, lean into the boots and get something a little more rugged. We love Danner boots, which have the advantage of being both great technical boots and pretty good looking, so you can pull them off outside of the trails (we’re even known to wear them to dinner and the bar). No matter what, shoes are really important to try on, so either order a few pairs from Amazon (great time to try Amazon Prime free for 30 days, or 6 months if you’re a student, or try out Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe, where you can try on at home for 7 days before you’re charged!) or head to your local REI or trusted store to get the right fit.

You’ll also need two types of water shoes. First, bring some cheap and easy flip flops (we love Teva for men or women, and the name means “nature in Hebrew!) for the beach or the pool. You also can’t go wrong with classic Havaianas for men or women. Second, grab a good pair of water adventure shoes for aquatic adventures (also extra important for outdoor and adventure trips where you don’t want your boots to be water-logged and flip-flops won’t cut it on a rafting adventure). For this, we don’t think you can beat Keen shoes for comfort and unique toe protection from rocks and other sharp stuff lurking below the surface. Check out the classic Men’s Newport H2 and a new model for women, the Whisper Sandals.

Clothes

Short-sleeve shirts (6-8): This is the core of your dailly touring outfit, and goes everywhere from casual evenings to hikes. We recommend bringing a few fewer shirts to help keep the total gear size to a minimum and packing wicking and breathable shirts (that you can also wash in the sink). Stash a few more t-shirts for summer trips (in the winter you’ll sweat through fewer shirts and often have another layer on). Bonus: Grab some shirts with built-in sun protection! Your delicate skin will thank you! There are tons of great options in this category.

Classic, good-looking, and simple Under Armour shirts (for men and women) are always a great call, and you can pick them up for around $20 on Amazon with free shipping in a few colors. REI-branded shirts (for women and men) are also a nice option that might look a little less sporty and do come with that nice built-in sun protection. If you’re looking for some of most stylish shirts, of course there is Lululemon (this will likely be a popular brand on your trip). Beware of high prices! Their shirts are often $50 or more! Check out the Metal Vent Tech line for some crazy breathable and stylish shirts for guys. In the summer months you’ll definitely spot some women in Lululemon tanks!

Long-sleeve shirts (3-8): Look for the same thing in long-sleeve shirts, which are great to have for the cooler evenings and especially in the colder months for travel — breathable and sun protection are your friends on this trip! Check out affordable options from Under Armour for both women and men.

Shorts (2-4): Essential for hiking and urban adventures during the hotter months. For most trips, the amount of hiking you’ll be doing is limited to at-most a few hours per day, with some breaks between. For this, any pair of shorts will work. If you can, steer towards lighter materials that are quicker to dry and hopefully even have some stretch to them (denim is not your friend here!). Even if it’s not a water activity, there’s always the chance of a surprise hot springs or just a good sweat. Old Navy has a great option for an affordable pair of shorts made from quick-drying material that has some flex built in. For an upgrade pick or if you’re taking on an adventure trip, check out Patagonia shorts that will surely have more durability. For women, check out this stylish Old Navy pair of linen shorts that will fair well in almost any warm weather environment

Pants (3-4): In the summer you’ll want a few pairs of pants for cooler evenings, religious sites, and evening social activities. Jeans are great in the winter, but you might want something lighter in the warmer months. Guys take note: We’re obsessed with the Commission Pants from Lululemon. They’re over $100 a pair, but are the perfect travel pant for everything from the plane to passing for pretty stylish pants at the Western Wall or in a cafe. Classic Levi’s jeans are available through the Amazon Prime Wardrobe program and less than $40 in more than 20 colors. Women have great Levi’s options too if you’re looking for some new wardrobe basics to take on the trip or want to leave nicer clothes at home!

You’ll also definitely see many women rocking leggings on many parts of the trip — plane rides, bus rides, camel rides, you name it. These are a great option for comfort because they can keep you cool with breathable fabrics in the summer and help keep you warm and insulated in the cooler winter months.  Lululemon will make another big appearance here, but you can also choose from tons of fun colors for about $10 on Amazon. Do take note that some religious sites will require less form-fitting clothes (i.e. a dress that covers a lot), so either pack one to wear to those sites or bring one along (you won’t be the only one changing outside the door!). Pick one up on Amazon (with free returns if it doesn’t fit!) for about $20 and stuff it in your bag to be prepared without any advance planning each day.

Sweaters and sweatshirts (1-3): Bring something comfortable and packable. You’ll definitely appreciate having this on the plane (it can get chilly at night) and in hotel rooms where you might not have full control of the thermostat. During the winter months, plan on bringing a sweatshirt on most activities, along with heavier jackets based on the weather. We love this Nike full-zip sweatshirt — it’s super-soft, has two pockets and a hood, and is really small and easy to pack. It will take you from the plane through cool evenings to a chilly hotel room, and look good doing it. Another great option this Nike half-zip or similar styles of clothing, which can be a bit more stylish, but that comes at the expense of the convenient full-length zipper and hood.

Shabbat/modest clothing and “going out” outfits (at least 2-3 times wearing this): For guys, bring button down dress shirts, nice chinos or dark jeans, and dessier shoes. For women, bring 2 long dresses or skirts, scarves/cardigans to cover shoulders, and nicer shoes. If you’re planning on a social event every night (check out your trip schedule for more details, such as free time in bigger cities), you might want to pack more clothes that you want to wear to bars and cafes. All trips should plan 1-2 nicer outfits for Shabbat festivities and some social outings. This is something you can pull from your normal wardrobe. If you’re looking for something new here, it again depends on your trip. If you’re hoping to double-up on your wardrobe pieces to pack light and be ready for anything on an adventure trip, something like this REI shirt is a great investment. It looks stylish enough for a night out in Tel Aviv, but also doubles as a great daily piece for adventures with breathable and quick-trying technical fabric that has built-in sun protection! Women will find some great flexibility with a different style shirt, also from REI that goes from casual to elegant (well, elegant enough for Israel) to practical and also loaded with a moisture-wicking tech fabric that protects from the sun.

Underwear and socks (14 pairs each): You’re going to be on the move and changing multiple times per day, sometimes after some pretty sweaty adventures. You’ll want clean options in this category. Trust us. We love MeUndies for both men and women. It’s not exactly a technical material, but the fit is incredible, the material breathes really well, and they come in multiple styles and even many fun colors. REI-brand gear or ExOfficio is great here to get the highest performance option (men, women), and these lines come in multiple styles depending on your preference. These are a bit pricey, but a worthy investment. You can slim down your travel options by planning to pack only 8-10 pairs and washing them (a good hand-wash in the sink and an overnight hang dry leaves them ready for another day).

Swimsuits (2-3): This is very dependent on your trip — if you’re mostly exploring cultural sites or working with entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv, 1 should do the trick. If you’re rafting every other day, you’ll want at least 3 to always have a dry and clean option!

Pajamas: You’ll want something clean and comfy for sleeping, but also try to double-up on categories to save room in your suitcase. See if you can pack a sweatshirt that works for the plane, cool evenings, and sleeping when your room is on the colder side. For new gear, we again recommend Old Navy because they have stylish staples at affordable prices that will work for many needs on Birthright and back at home, but can take the strain of the intensity of a trip (and aren’t so expensive that it’s ok if they don’t even make it back!). These men’s fleece shorts are super comfy for sleeping and a great option for lounging around the hotel in the evenings. Women’s patterned leggings can go from a cozy sleep to a long early morning bus ride

Medium-weight coat (e.g. 1 fleece jacket + 1 lightweight shell or raincoat):

No matter the season, you’ll want some layers. Remember that even though Israel is a small country, the weather varies a ton across times of day and geography. More than anything else you bring on the trip, the choice of jackets matters by season. Also important here is the fit — jackets are one thing you really want to try on if you can. So head over to your local REI, Patagonia shop, outdoor store, or favorite spot to pick out something in these categories.

Summer (March through October with temperatures between 60 and 100 degrees fahrenheit): In the summer, you’ll want a light layer for cool evenings. You can’t go wrong with a basic fleece from Columbia, REI, or Patagonia. We really like the Patagonia R1 (men, women) layer for this type of weather (and as a bonus, it is great for layering under other gear for cold or wet adventures). It’s a great material that keeps you warm but also breathes really well so you don’t overheat. It’s super stretchy and soft! You don’t really need the hood option for the summer, but it can be cozy on a cold airplane and is great if you use the same gear for wet weather.

Winter (October through March with temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees fahrenheit and rainy weather): In the winter you’ll want to increase the intensity of your layers for warmth and to stay dry. In the winter we also love a Patagonia option. This time, it’s the R2 (men, women), which feels more fuzzy and soft like a fleece and provides more insulation against the cold (but not the wind or rain — more on that later). The second half of the outdoor layer is a waterproof and windproof option with a hood. We love the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket (women, men) which blocks the water and wind with a still-breathable fabric in a package that folds down super small for each packing (amazing for keeping to a carry-on bag!).

This layering approach gives you the ultimate versatility! You can wear the Torrentshell or similar jacket with or without the fleece, so together they can cover almost any situation. By the way, on a few of our recent trips, we’ve worn a normal ski jacket shell (also Patagonia) over the R2 and R1 insulation — if you have one of these already in your closet, it works great, if only a bit bulkier than some lighter options. If you add in one more light layer, such as a sweatshirt or even the R1 and the R2, you have enough insulation for the coldest temps you’re likely to find in Israel with rain pouring down, all the way to a light insulation for a breezy evening.

Oh, and for winter travel, definitely bring a winter hat too!

Your Gear

Hat

A good hat is critical for Israel trips (even in the winter). Our go-to hat is the Columbia Coolhead Ball Cap (men, women), which is made from a comfortable, lightweight, moisture-wicking cooling fabric that has UPF 50 built in, which means it’s providing shade to your eyes and blocking the rays from hitting your face and the top of your head (people all over the world often forget to protect the scalp — your hair only does so much!). It also comes in multiple colors and has a really nice subtle design that fits with an athletic style or a more fashionable look. This hat will take you from adventures in the dessert to urban hikes across the country.

If you’re headed out on an adventure trip or want to lock-in the best protection, you have to switch over to a wide-brim cap, which most find less stylish, but can be a great look if done right. The Columbia Bora Bora hat is always a topic pick in this category, and includes the same UPF 50 protection, plus a neck strap to really keep it on during a windy hike or even on a white-water rapids trip.

In the same category, an intriguing upgrade pick is the Tilley LTM6 AIRFLO hat, which is a gorgeous hat, handmade in Canada with great style, multiple colors, attention to detail, and a famous hat pedigree. Tilley hat wearers swear by this company, and this is their best-selling model. It will cost you — this model sells for $90, compared to about $30 for Columbia styles! We haven’t brought this into the collection yet, but we’re thinking about it. Sun protection is so important, and if there is a stylish and comfortable option available at a reasonable price, it’s worth a serious look. An expensive hat you wear all time is better than a heap of cheap hats that you hate and never wear.

Sunglasses

Israel is a beautiful, sunny place. Our top recommendation for sunglasses is Knockaround, which make multiple stylish options to choose from with quality materials all for about $20. This is perfect for travel (and college students on a budget) because you won’t worry about beating them up (or “knocking them around”) or even losing them. Their styles include multiple frames shapes, tons of frame colors, and a really great selection of some wild lens colors. You won’t be bored here. For a nice upgrade, get a pair with polarized lenses, which you’ll appreciate when staring at the glare coming off the Mediterranean sea or the desert sand.

Our personal favorite is the classic, simple, style of black-on-black Fort Knocks with polarized lenses. Turns out these are a favorite of John Legend too! For something a little more interesting, try the same stunning black frames with the bright sunset lenses.

Knockaround Fort Knocks Black Sunglasses
Knockaround Fort Knocks Black Sunglasses
Knockaround Fort Knocks Black Sunglasses on John Legend

We also love the simple Classics, also in all black and black frames with sunset lenses. Premiums are another similar option with tons of great colors!

Knockaround Classics Black Sunglasses
Knockaround Classics Sunset Sunglasses

For a different look, check out the Mile Highs — a beautiful version of the classic Aviator style. These have adjustable nose pieces, which can certainly add some comfort, but we find them not quite as good of a fit for adventures, where the all-plastic frames stay put a little better (especially when you add a strap — see below for more info on options like this one from Chums).

Knockaround Mile Highs Gold Sunglasses
Knockaround Mile Highs Gold Sunglasses

Knockaround has two awesome new styles: Fast Lanes and Paso Robles. Fastlanes are an edgier look with harder lines, while Paso Robles are softer with round frames. All come in a spectrum of colors, from the basics to tortoise shell, to bright colors you can’t miss.

Knockaround Fast Lanes Silver Sunglasses
Knockaround Paso Robles Tortoise Sunglasses

Want to really go all-in on sunglasses for your Birthright Israel trip? Then take a look at the Knockaround custom options and make these custom Israeli-styled Premiums your pick for the trip! Custom Fort Knocks are also available. Ready to be a bus hero? Bulk order these for everyone on the trip!

Knockaround Premiums Sunglasses in Custom Israel Colors

So many options from Knockaround! Grab a few pairs and be ready for anything on your trip. We’re known for keeping a few pairs in rotation and tucking them away in our backpacks, pool bags, cars, and more so they’re always at our fingertips. For the same price as name brands you can get 5 pairs!

We also really like the sunglasses from TOMS (better known for their sweet shoes and their program to donate their shoes to a person in need). They’re a little more pricey than the Knockaround styles, but definitely a little more fashion-forward and a better fit for some styles.

If you’re a fashion maven and only want the brands, you can’t go wrong with Rayban for style, comfort, and function (but you will pay for it). The Wayfarers, Clubmaster, and Aviators are all classic choices that are still on trend. Can’t say it’s our style, but people swear by their Oakley sunglasses, and these might be the choice for adventure trips where you’re on bikes, rafts, and other high-speed activities where getting the right fit and keeping the glasses in place are critical! These Oakley Flak sunglasses will do the trick.

No matter what you choose, consider grabbing a sunglasses strap to keep your pair on your head or nearby for easy access. Go with a floating option for water activities, like this nifty floral pattern from Ukes. Chums makes a classic strap in tons of colors and Croakies are synonymous with straps for a reason. This is one of our personal favorites because the strap is a little shorter, keeping the glasses tight while in use and in comfortable position resting by your neck.

Sunscreen

Again, you’re literally going to be in a desert! Even when you’re walking the streets of a city or hiking outside the desert or in the winter, the sun in Israel can be strong. You definitely want to bring sunscreen on this trip. The right sunscreen is 99% determined by personal preference. Sure, there are some better ones and worse ones, different types, and other factors to consider. But for most people, wearing any sunscreen is way more important than the type.

Here’s how to think about applying sunscreen for true protection from the damaging effects of long-term exposure to the sun: You must apply about a shot glass worth of sunscreen to the entire body about every hour. So the first lesson is toss your super-expensive sunscreen that you’re trying to make last and grab something you can easily use to cover your body. And the second lesson is to actually think of sunscreen as your second line of defense against the sun — the first should be staying in the shade or covering your body with UFP clothing. This is especially important when taking part in high-intensity activities, which will make it more likely for your initial sunscreen application to wear off and where it’s challenging to reapply every hour.

For water activities, take a page from the surfing playbook and wear a rash guard with built-in “Ultraviolet Protection Factor” (UPF), such as this one from O’Neill for women or men. Outside the water, many high-quality gear brands make shirts (and pants) in many styles for both men and women with reasonable price points around $30 or less. Some of our favorites are from REI, including this REI Sahara T-Shirt (men, women). Patagonia makes especially great gear and we love this long-sleeve men’s shirt for even more arm protection. Women should also take a look at the stylish options that don’t even look like “outdoor gear” — another REI favorite is the Santorini Knit Top. Most of these options include built-it UPF 50, which means that only 1/50th of the ultraviolet rays from the sun penetrate the fabric, and the protection doesn’t wear off in the water or from sweat!

Our personal favorite is the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer 70 SPF sunscreen, which has offered us great protection from the broad spectrum with a nice feeling of the actual lotion. Another great feature of this choice is the 3 oz size, which means you can carry it right on the plane in your toiletry kit or even 3-1-1 TSA bag.

Another popular pick is the Coppertone Ultra Guard 70 SPF sunscreen, which is also water resistant and offers broad-spectrum protection. It comes in a 8 oz container, so grab some GoToobs to pack 3 oz for the trip.

If you prefer a spray sunscreen, two good options are the Banana Boat Sunscreen UltraMist Sport Performance Broad Spectrum Sun Care Sunscreen Spray and the Neutrogena Beach Defense Body Spray Sunscreen. Before you go down this route, note two key extra challenges. First, you need to spray the same amount of spray sunscreen that you would apply in lotion, which means spraying for about 2 minutes. And then you still need to rub it in. Second, these come in containers that are technically too large to carry on the plan and can’t be easily transferred to a smaller container.

Note about sunscreen: In addition to varying personal preferences, there is a raging debate about the safety of the ingredients in many sunscreens for human bodies and nature, especially coral reefs. The Environmental Working Group promotes shifting away from the chemicals used in most of the common sunscreens, including those we recommend here.

If you are going to snorkel, swim, or drive around corral reefs, this is really worth paying attention to right away, and we recommend going with a oxybenzone-free sunscreen, such as Thinksport. We’ve used it before, liked it but didn’t love it. It definitely works well, but goes on a lot thicker than normal sunscreen. If you’re not swimming right at a reef or generally worried about adverse health effects, it seems the warnings might be overblown.

If you’re curious, the Wirecutter has a great writeup on a rational reading of the research (basically you’d have to apply an entire bottle of sunscreen every week for over a year to get anywhere near the dangerous levels reported in the research, which was done on rats in the first place). Thinksport and other options without oxybenzone provide an option if the research freaks you out or you want to hit up some beautiful corral reefs and do minimal damage.

Bottom line: Stay in the shade. Get UPF protective clothing. Wear a sunscreen. (And drink water!)

Insect repellent

We’ve never really had a problem with bugs in Israel and most insect repellent is pretty hard to travel with. If you’re really sensitive, bring some along. The Cutter Backwoods Dry is what we usually grab at the store if we’re going somewhere with more misquitos and bothersome critters. This is another great option to pick up in Israel once you’re there if you’re annoyed by the bugs, which are there, especially in the summer, but don’t seem to be frequently carries of scary diseases.

Flashlight

This is a travel necessity that will be especially useful for your Birthright trip where you might be camping in a Bedouin tent one night and stumbling through a dark hotel room you’re sharing with an exhausted travel buddy. We’ve had versions of Maglite Mini for years and always found it tough, reliable, and simple to use (plus the newest version has an LED bulb!). We also love Fenix lights, which are a favorite of law enforcement and adventure travelers for their brightness and durability. The Fenix E12 is simple and a nice upgrade on the Maglite. A really nice product we just added to our gear bag is the Nite Ize 3-in-1 light, which can turn into a flashlight, lattern (again, camping!), or a red safety light that can glow, flash, or even signal SOS.

Journal

If you’re the writing type, a journal is a great to write down a few memories from the day, or, go deeper, and write about the meaning of your experiences. Field Notes are a joy to write in, are durable to stand up to travel, and slide nicely in a pocket. Moleskine Cahier notebooks also fit the bill, and other Moleskine models come in tons of sizes, colors, formats, and paper styles — the larger-sized hardcover notebook is closer to a standard journal format if you value larger size over portability.

Snacks

Energy/protein bars (Just like the flight, expect plenty of time to eat, but still think about bringing an on-th-go snack or two. We are in love with the stuffed Clif bars, which taste more like dessert than a protein bar, and Rx bars, which have a really simple list of healthy ingredients and keep you full! Bonus: If you have a few extra bars, you’re bound to be a favorite friend on the bus for everyone who forgot a snack!)

Kippah

Men may want to bring their own kippah for use at religious sites, rather than rely on those available for the public since they’re shared (yeah, lots of other sweaty tourists have worn them) and are sometimes make it a bit too obvious who is a tourist out of place (like paper versions!) and who knows their way around. Kippahs are fantastic souvenirs to pick up while actually in Israel and make great keepsakes that you’ll use the rest of your life, bringing back great memories of your time in Israel, as well as gifts. If you want to make sure you bring one, grab one from a recent Bar or Bat Mitzvah or wedding, or pick up a simple knitted version with a nice blue and white Israeli design from Amazon Prime for about $10.

Purse

Women will likely want a smaller bag for use in the evenings for social activities, in addition to a daypack for the daily outings. The best options will have just enough space for a small travel wallet, cell phone, hotel key, and other essentials, be easy to pack, and be able to be worn cross-body completely zipped up for better defense against thieves. If you’re buying a new one for the trip, consider this purse from Travelon that has anti-slash technology built into the strap so even the most daring criminals won’t be able to get it. Tumi always delivers an incredible hybrid of style and function, and their cross-body travel purse is up to that high standard.

Wallet with coin pocket

You’ll be using Israeli Shekels in Israel, which rely a lot more on coins than the US, including some with much higher values than any coins we have. Get something to keep it all organized. We love almost everything Bellroy makes, including the Bellroy Note Sleeve, an all-purpose wallet that has a hidden coin pocket. For coins alone, we recommend this leather coin holder that has a slide out tray, which makes it easy to slide the coins out to view and grab what you need. We also like soft-sided coin wallets from Herschel Supply Co. and Manhattan Portage, which are great for coins and bills, as well as any other important small documents you want to keep safe behind a zipper.

Power Adapters

Israel has different outlets than America, so bring as many of these as you need to charge your critical gear. Most adapters on the market only change the plug, not the voltage. This is fine for most electronics which have worldwide voltage ratings (typically 100-240v), but will not work for items that are only rated for 120V, which are typically items like hair dryers and straighteners. Most iPhone, tablets, Kindles, etc. are rated to work with Israeli 220V with only an adapter, but check your power cords to be sure!

We recommend one that has USB plugs built right in to save space and make quick work of plugging stuff in and out of every outlet you run across!

If you do want to bring something that requires 120V, you’ll need an actual voltage converter (these are always bigger, heavier, and more expensive than a simple outlet adapter). We don’t recommend bringing one of these on Birthright. You probably don’t need one, definitely don’t want to lug it with you all over the country, and if you end up absolutely needing one, many hotels have a few to loan out to forgetful tourists.  Instead of going that route, bring a hair straightener and blow dryer that work on anywhere from 110 to 220V!

Suitcase lock

If you’re checking a bag, make sure to lock it, and make sure to lock it with a TSA-approved model (these allow the TSA to open the lock with a special tool without damaging your lock or bag and indicate that the bag was unlocked so you can double-check to make sure nothing is missing). We like the cable lock version, which is a little easier to use than the standard metal version. We also like grabbing a bright version, which is another chance to make your bag stand out a little more on the baggage claim carousel and in the pile of Birthright bags coming off the bus!

Water bottle

Bringing one is essential to making sure you’re always hydrated during an active trip. And don’t forget: Israel is in a dessert! It’s dry and you’ll be thirsty. Bring a bottle so you’re not dependent on drinking fountains or disposable bottles. Plus, do something good for the environment in Israel while you’re there by avoiding plastic bottles. Platypus makes an awesome collapsible bottle, which is perfect for traveling. Hydro Flask makes our favorite bottles, which are durable, insulated, a little stylish, and come in multiple sizes for your comfort.

Music speakers

There will be a few evenings of downtime in the holiday, potentially time on the beach, and some other choice moments where having a louder speaker than your phone will come in handy. To keep size to a minimum and music to a maximum, we recommend the Ultimate Ears Roll 2 Speaker. It’s loud, waterproof, and compact — the size is even great for clipping on a backpack for on the go. The Tribit XSound is a cheaper pick ($35) with a more traditional format.

Extra plastic bags

Keep a few in your backpack and suitcase as a place to hold wet or extra dirty clothes — especially important when traveling on an adventure trip!

Towel (optional)

If you’re doing a lot of adventure travel, you might want to always have your own towel that you can carry with you rather than relying on every stop to have one. Absolutely do not bring a “normal” towel! That will take up way too much room in your bag and never dry on time. Instead, invest in a quick-dry, lightweight towel, which will take up a tiny amount of room and almost always dry overnight if not faster. If you’re bringing one all the way to Israel, we recommend getting around a normal “full-size” towel you can use it for a full “dry off” or lay it down on a pool chair or on the beach (they do come on smaller sizes, but are not as versatile). All the options at REI are great, and if you can go in person you can try out the different sizes (a full size can even help you change last minute in an otherwise completely public spot!).

Toiletries & Washroom Essentials

Israel is a very developed country and Birthright isn’t exactly roughing it (unless you picked a camping and adventure trip!). That said, Israeli hotels might not match up to what you’re used to in American hotels, and there are likely some nights you’ll spend in a tent or in a guest house on a Kibbutz — basically plan on packing the shampoo you need instead of planning to find it there.

That said, here’s our go-to list of critical items to pack. We hope you don’t need most of it, and again, it’s almost all available in Israel, but just in case. Bring any essentials in a carry-on bag (even if you’re checking the rest of your gear), so be sure those items are in 3 oz or smaller containers (We love the GoToobs!)

  1. Any prescriptions (and be sure to bring them in the original packages with the printed prescription label on them in case of any questions during travel)
  2. Feminine products
  3. Benadryl (for many allergic reactions
  4. Advil
  5. Shampoo and soap (Some accommodations may have basic toiletries, but not all, and it’s best not to assume. Instead of worrying, pack travel sizes of your favorites. We love the GoToobs! They come in multiple sizes, including a perfect 3 oz. size that meets TSA carry-on restrictions.)
  6. Deodorant (for the mornings and mid-day changes to stay fresh!)
  7. Toothbrush
  8. Toothpaste
  9. Floss
  10. Mouthwash
  11. Face lotion
  12. Body lotion
  13. Sunscreen
  14. Lip moisturizer
  15. Q-tips, cotton balls
  16. Hair brush or comb
  17. Deodorant (for that clean feeling when you’re changing into the third outfit of the day!)

The End

You made it! Hopefully you feel 100% ready for your trip after reading this list. If you have any questions or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch — we’re always looking for new input into the packing list and would be happy to help with your specific questions if you’re stuck.

We carefully reviewed all of the packing lists from the trip organizers and then expanded on their basics with more details, options, and recommendations. If you want to double-check that you have the right stuff as suggested by the particular organizer of your trip, please click below to go to their packing lists. Not sure which trip to take? Our packing list covers every type of trip to Israel! If you’re going on speciality, pay attention to the notes in the list and keep in mind the specific types of needs for your trip, such as more outdoor gear for adventure trips, tech gear for an entrepreneurial trip, and additional comfortable clothes for city exploring on cultural trips. Not sure which trip to go on? Check out the BirthrightGuru trip guide!

  1. Amazing Israel
  2. Ezra World
  3. Hillel
  4. Israel Outdoors
  5. Mayanot
  6. Israel Free Spirit
  7. Sachlav Israel on the House
  8. Shorashim
  9. Yael Adventures

Please note: Some of the links to items on this page are affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission if you end up buying something we recommend. We only recommend products that we truly believe are a great option for Birthright Israel travelers, always disclose affiliate links, and stay true to our honest opinions about each product.

Photo by Philipp Kämmerer on Unsplash

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *