If you've spent time reading any of the trip blogs, Thank You!
If you've read through all 14 parts, I applaud you mightily!!
There are pluses and minuses to going on an organized pilgrimage. We had 28 people in our group, including guide, a nice intimate size. Everybody pretty much got along with everyone else and the size was small enough that we were able to use a single bus. ReGeneration's previous group had around 40 people and required two buses.
I had chosen the single room upgrade option. At first glance it's wonderful to be able to go back to your hotel room and simply vegetate in silence. Also, you can pretty much unpack your baggage and spray it across the whole room without much worry. Clearly an upside for anyone who isn't a Neat Freak.
However, there was a downside. Sometimes it's too easy to go back to the room and bask in solitude. With the exception of the first night in Amman, and that Tuesday in Jerusalem, I never really did do anything in the evening with anyone else. Had I been in a double occupancy room, no doubt I would have went out purely due to peer pressure.
Having the single room option sort of puts one out of the loop on many simple things, and it's not in my character to overtly search out what others are doing. Nor did anyone really go out of their way to share what they were doing in the "off-time." (In no way am I suggesting it was their responsibility to).
If you're one that feels you must have a single room. I can understand that. Just make sure you make that extra effort to constantly be involved!
Additionally, in a nutshell, I went halfway around the World to watch television, and it wasn't even Israeli television! The whole idea of catching the Sharks' playoff games in the evenings may have sounded good on the surface. However, it relied on Internet that was either spotty at best, or ridiculously expensive. I should have just got over the idea I'd be missing the first round of the playoffs and explored where I was. Meaning, throw yourself 100% into your trip!
Before the trip I'd purchased The Christian's Guide to the Holy Land on recommendation by trip leaders, going through and highlighting everywhere we were supposed to go. Then I barely touched the book. While it had nice blurbs on everything over there, including Bible passages for each location, I didn't use it nearly as much as I could have.
I cannot stress enough that one should read their Holy Bible!! It goes without saying that a Christian should read their Bible. However, there were points where Doron and TS talked about things happening which I was vaguely familiar with. Had I been more versed in Bible reading it would have been more enjoyable.
One should also spend time trying to understand the current political situation that exists today. I had picked up The Palestine – Israeli Conflict, A Beginner's Guide which some regarded as the most balanced book on the conflict. The first part was written by an Israeli, while the second part was by a Palestinian. I'd only finished the Israeli section before the trip, so didn't have an idea of what to look for.
Keep a journal!!! I wish I had. In writing these trip blogs, I relied on photographs to jog my memory. I'm sure I've forgotten things I would have recorded at the time, and I might have been more choosy in what I did record.
I asked several trip members whether they'd kept a journal. Sadly, those that did respond said "no."
My trip was in 2008. Small portable computer devices have expanded like crazy since then, especially with a myriad of tablets out there. If a person owns a laptop or tablet, they MUST take it with them. If not to check email, then simply to keep a journal and to backup photos to from the day's shooting.
That brings me to another item; a good camera. I went the extreme, dripping with a high end dSLR and several pro-quality lenses, along with all sorts of things need to support that. It produced great quality photos. Far superior than any point and click might. But, it didn't produce squat once it stopped working. I foolishly left a backup body to save a little weight. Never again!! I also brought a tripod and a monopod. With the exception of the night shots at Kibbutz HaOn, the tripod was just taking up space.
Do yourself a favor and get the best quality camera you can afford. dSLR are coming down in price significantly, as are the removable lenses, which provide a far better quality than most consumer cameras. Whatever you're considering, a camera on a phone is NOT an option. (Someone recently photographed their wedding with an iPhone. Mark my words that they're going to regret that some years from now.)
No matter what camera equipment you end up with, don't be afraid to click that shutter button. We're no longer in the age of film where you have to be selective. Shoot freely, download them to your computer at night, and then delete garbage that will never be used! Otherwise you may end up with 10,000 photos, three-quarters which are out of focus, blown out, too dark or just plain bad.
If you're on one of the major cell phone carriers there's a good chance they will operate in another country. Do your research ahead of time. I have Verizon, which operates in Israel and Jordan. Before going, I found out that they had a Blackberry loaner program, which allowed me to spend some extra money for the month and have data connectivity, as well as make phone calls, for one (relatively) low price.
Another person had her 1st Gen. iPhone, which was only on AT&T at the time, and she was able to make phone calls only some of the time. The lesson is you don't need to get a burner phone locally just to be able to calls inexpensively. You just need to make sure you have the right plan.
Don't be afraid to actually buy souvenirs along the way. I ended up with very little souvenirs, and what I did buy, is nothing I'm overly excited about. Though it would have probably simply ended up on my wall I sure wish I'd bought a shofar, like CM did. They're totally cool and sure are a conversation piece!
Would I go again? Absolutely!! After coming back I found there were lots of things we didn't see even at the sites we went to simply because of time.
Would I try to go it solo? Yes again. However, you have to really consider what you're going to do, and what you're going to miss without a traveling partner.
Even if you were to stuff your mind with all sorts of data, it's just not the same as having someone to share the traveling experience with, or a guide who is well versed on the subject. Having a traveling partner also gives you an extra sense of security in some of the lesser safe-feeling areas.
If you do decide to go it on your own, plan your trip strategically. Unless you're going to spend months over there, you're probably going to have to trim some places out so you can concentrate on others, and not leave lacking. Petra, Jerash and Aqaba were amazing places to experience. But, I have to wonder if we hadn't spent the time in Jordan, could we have seen lots more in Israel (regardless of the cost factor)?
Remember to bring your ATM card with you. Banks are plentiful in that the cities and your card should work in most ATMs, depending on your financial institution, without a big exchange fee. This way you won't have to carry cash with you into the country you're visiting, and you're less likely to end up at home with a ton of unspent foreign currency.
If you're in Jordan, US Dollars were accepted fairly frequently. Less to some degree in Israel.
Don't just eat in fancy restaurants, and you must seek out shawarma and kanafeh!! There's something special about eating shawarma from a street side vendor in Nazareth! (For you vegetarians, you can get falafel if you must).
Lastly….HAVE FUN!! It might just end up being the trip of your lifetime!!