Where are you going for the holiday?

Travel experts explain Israeli need to escape, whether it's to visit family or to see new sights.

pyramids 224 88 (photo credit: )
pyramids 224 88
(photo credit: )
Israelis need to travel. Whether it is due to the size of the country or due to the novelty of seeing new places, Israelis can't be held down. "I don't need to tell you, you can take a look at the statistics: A lot of Israelis travel," Ephraim Sahrel, a representative from Mazada Tours, told The Jerusalem Post. He pointed out that flights for Shavuot were filled up well ahead of time. Taking trips abroad and around the country is a natural part of being an Israeli. "We live in a pressure cooker, we travel more per capita than Japan, and we have few landlocked countries to visit; we need to get away," Mark Feldman, the CEO of Zion Tours, told the Post. And when better to fulfill the need for traveling than during the holidays? "Every time there is a vacation, [people] like to go out. It's cheap to take a tour... they go to Eilat or Tel Aviv," Sahrel said. He added that during the holiday season, his business goes up 20 to 30 percent. CROSSING THE BORDER Israelis looking to go abroad are either going to see the sites or going to see the family. "Most people go to Egypt or Jordan because of the wonders," Sahrel said. Israelis tend to go on the basic site tours in those countries, snapping pictures of the pyramids, Petra, Wadi-Run and Mt. Nebo. "Egypt is the place to see once in [a] lifetime," Sahrel said. Despite historically being the top draws, Egypt and Jordan are now contending with the "new sexy places" - Morocco and Uzbekistan. Although Morocco may not seem that far of a stretch for Israelis to visit, Uzbekistan is a little surprising. "They have beautiful cities there," Feldman said, highlighting the other-worldliness of the country. With remnants of the Silk Road and rugged terrain, Uzbekistan is bringing more and more Israelis to its shores. "It has to do with people's disposable incomes: More money can get an exotic location," Feldman said. But it is not only the ancient sites people are looking for on holidays. "People prefer cities for holidays," Feldman said of the travelers he has seen. This usually means going to Europe, where Prague and Budapest are two of the most popular destinations for a quick jaunt, while London and Paris draw travelers over longer holidays. Traveling to cities provides more time to step back and enjoy "the big three" - shopping, site seeing and relaxing - which is the point of a vacation, according to Feldman. HAVE YOU SEEN MY MOTHER? "It's nice to be with family since [holidays] are family-oriented," Feldman said. He observed that many people head to America, England and South Africa to visit family. "It's rare, especially for Anglo-Saxon Israelis, to not travel at least once a year," Feldman said. Plus, there is a large convenience factor for people looking to escape Israel during the holidays. For religious Israelis, there is no need to worry about building a succa or turning the house kosher for Pessah when going to visit family abroad. And this way, people do not have to pay "astronomical prices" for kosher hotels, noted Feldman. For secular Israelis, going abroad mitigates the fact that places are closed down during the holidays. But it's not just convenience that has Israelis packing up their suitcases; travel agents have noticed an increasing number of clients looking to explore their roots. "A lot of holiday travel is based on roots," Feldman said. Which partially explains the increase in travel to Morocco. "Morocco has a lot of people who are doing roots traveling," Sahrel said. Europe, too, is a popular destination for people studying their backgrounds. Every year on Rosh Hashana, thousands of Breslav Hassidism head to Uman, Ukraine on a pilgrimage to the grave of the Rabbi Nahman of Breslav. STAYING CLOSE TO HOME For Israelis not interested in going too far, there are three main spots: "North, South, Jerusalem," Feldman said. "When we go up North, it's a large group of people," Netta Kavenshpock, 26, said. An avid hiker, she loves to go backpacking when she gets the time off. "Because of what I do now, working in a lab," she explained of the need to break free from the pressures of everyday life. She and a number of friends attempted to finish the Trail of the Golan during the Pessah vacation, but failed, completing only a third of the trail. "Israelis have been raised to enjoy nature," Feldman asserted. This love of nature brings dozens of Israelis - like Kavenshpock - to the North for extended hiking trips. There, trekkers can see the natural beauty of the springs and mountains, which is perfect for the fall and spring weather. But the North also brings many religious Israelis who are looking to get away and stay in a "kosher" environment. Feldman said that up North, religious Israelis can be secluded during the holidays but still get away from home. Feldman noted that the North books up quickly, with Pessah 2009 reservations almost full. Jerusalem is the other hot spot for religious people during the holidays, according to Feldman. "Jerusalem is also sold out, it's the religious people who book so far in advance," Feldman said. And for locals looking for a non-religious atmosphere, Eilat is the vacation spot of choice. "Eilat radiates a secular environment," Feldman asserted. That influence and its prime location on the Red Sea gives travelers the feeling that they are abroad, but without the hassle of leaving the country. After all, there's no place like home.q