Winter Trip 2022: Part 7, Holy Land

Parting Ways for a Bit

Despite our past trips to the Middle East, Israel never appeared on our itineraries for a few reasons. First, Jamil is half-Palestinian. His entire family immigrated to the US in the 70s because, well, things got pretty uncomfortable for them in Israel. Clearly, he’s not thrilled with the political situation. Second, his family members and some Palestinian friends traveling back to Israel described long hours in the airport with grueling security interviews — not the welcome wagon we want greeting us. Third, we’ve got Lebanese, Egyptian, and Jordanian stamps on our passports. Sounds like red flags to me. Why risk it?

But my mom has mentioned a desire to go to the Holy Land many times recently, so this year, she and my dad trekked off to biblical territory while Jamil and I planned a week with friends in Spain to give Josephine a chance to travel with someone her age. My mom is writing her own set of blog posts to give you insight into how people with physical and age-related limitations travel, but I wanted to provide a little background on the legwork I did to set them up with the trip of a lifetime.

I considered using the tour group that hosted us in Egypt and Jordan last year, but the astronomical prices gave me heartburn. And there aren’t as many nuances to an Israel trip. There are some highlights to hit, but it’s not like a trip to Egypt, where you need to coordinate a tour guide who flies with you all over the country and follows your cruise ship by land up the Nile. For this, I needed an excellent guide with a plush car and a well-appointed hotel. That was pretty much it. So I decided to do it myself.

I was highly concerned about my parents getting held up in the airport for hours on end. My dad’s back nags him constantly, and my mother’s health conditions can strike at any time, leaving her quite undone. I couldn’t fathom them languishing in hard, pleather airport chairs, so I arranged a VIP service and called Israel Welcome to accompany them. On the way in, I went with the super-duper fancy Gold Level, while on the way out, I went a tier down to Silver, skipping the private terminal and just having someone walk them through immigration and security. I figured the Israelis would scrutinize arrivals much more heavily than departures (and I was correct – not a big deal at all). 

A man met my parents at their plane and escorted them to the Fattal Lounge in the private terminal. He collected their bags and took their passports to security while they drank champagne and enjoyed their first Israeli meal of the trip. I’m sure my mom will describe the opulence in greater detail, but what mattered to me was that they were sitting comfortably while the airport security people decided whether they needed to do a cavity search. Ultimately, they did not. In fact, they were in and out more quickly than they would have been in Houston, and the Israel Welcome team then dropped them safely at their hotels. They say it was worth every penny, and for me it really was, too.

With respect to their tours, I initially planned to use the tour guides associated with the Waldorf-Astoria Jerusalem, where they’d be spending five nights. However, the concierge had to serve as a middle man, which kind of drove me crazy. So I forged my own path, relying on TripAdvisor and Google Reviews to find Danny the Digger, who employs a host of historian tour guides. We arranged the tours with my parents’ guide, Moti, through WhatsApp, giving him a summary of what they wanted to see and letting him run with it. My parents said he knew every era of human history, beginning with the dawn of time, easily as knowledgeable as the guides we had in Egypt. It definitely took a little extra effort to plow through the many reviews on the internet, but we saved so much money and sacrificed neither luxury nor experience.

I feel like multigenerational travel sometimes has to go this way, splitting up for a bit here and there for everyone to explore the corners of the world that intrigue them. And I feel like my parents’ separate adventures teach Josephine that time doesn’t extinguish wanderlust. She can travel for her entire life, and if she’s willing to exert a little effort, she can do so in style, on her terms.

Author: Jessica Givens.