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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

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Take a tax holiday — on Uncle Sam

Tax season is almost over! Now that filing is nearly complete, it’s time for many of us to start looking forward to our refunds. This year alone, U.S. taxpayers already received an average of $2,831 per person in refunds, a significant amount of money that could whisk you away on an exotic vacation!

For that reason, I came up with a few suggestions for how travelers can get the most out of their newly acquired cash.

If you’re on the more conservative side of the refund spectrum or want to pocket some of the extra money, here’s my list of tax-refund trips travelers can take for under $2,000, including airfare.

  • Explore Exotic Ecuador for $1,399: Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, boasting more than 300 species of mammals alone. Visitors can tour the natural hot springs in Baños, view the volcanic peaks of Cotopaxi National Park, and explore the world’s most biologically diverse rainforest — the Amazon. Journey back in time with a visit to Quito, the nation’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore the city’s Spanish colonial architecture dating back to the 16th century. A trip to Ecuador is like immersing yourself in the world’s greatest biology class, and one that visitors will never forget.

The miracle of Israel that touches travelers of all walks of life

The following is a guest post from Dr. Steven Derfler, who just returned from Israel with a group.


Traveling to the ancient land of David and Solomon, Sarah and Deborah, the ministry of Jesus, and 3rd holiest place in Islam, is to be profoundly touched by history. The art and archaeology of this biblical world “puts flesh onto the bones” of the literature and religion that shapes the 3 great western religious traditions.

As an archaeology professor who has been a part of many excavations in Israel, and served as the American director of 2 projects, I try to bring the passion of rediscovery to those who travel with me. As a result, in-depth explanation on an archaeology and history-oriented study tour brings the biblical world to life again. Then, when you add in the opportunity to visit the sites with fellow archaeologists involved in the process itself gives a first-hand perspective not often found in study tours.

This was lure of our program this past October. Perhaps the signature site for archaeology and history of ancient Israel is the mountain-top monolith of Masada; overlooking the Dead Sea. The fortress citadel of King Herod over 2000 years ago, this site later went on to become the rallying point of Jewish identity and self-preservation — as defenders were the last to hold out against Rome in 73 CE. Having worked on the mountain myself, one of my closest friends in Israel is the Director of Masada National Park, Eitan Campbell. He would greet the group personally, and offer his own eloquent description of the fortress initially excavated by Yigal Yadin in the mid-60s. It has been the focus of his entire adult life in Israel, and his love for the site came through in his discussion — a fact not lost on the group. (more…)

The top 10 places and sites to visit in Israel

Here are our top 10 places and sites to visit in Israel (in no particular order):

Jerusalem: One of the oldest cities in the world, sacred to three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


Religious pilgrims have been traveling to Jerusalem for centuries, as Jerusalem is full of significant historical, religious and educational sites. Must-sees include:

  • The Western (Wailing) Wall, which is over 2000 years old. It is the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith, and the most visited site in Israel.
  • The Temple Mount, one of the most important religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City. It is the third most important site in Islam, and the most important in Judaism. 
  • The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most holy Christian site in the world.

Shrine of the Book: home to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Located in the national Israel Museum in Jersalem, the largest museum and cultural complex in the country, the Shrine of the Book houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Scrolls are a collection of 972 texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 found on the shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name, and are of great historical and religious significance. They consist of biblical manuscripts from what is known as the Hebrew Bible. (more…)

Why Israel is a country with something for everyone

The first time I visited Israel, it was 1972, a full year before the Yom Kippur War. It was a far simpler place then, with no skyscrapers, no color TV anywhere in the country, and little in the way of luxury goods. It was a time when calculators were golden gifts for Israeli students; transistor radios were treasured by young army recruits; and wineries were known by a single name, Carmel.

I’ve been to Israel many, many times since that first trip more than 40 years ago, when my tour guide made me cry because I wandered away from my group and made everyone late for the next stop on our tour. With each visit, I’ve come to appreciate more and more the amazing diversity and dynamism of this incredible country.

Only 68 years ago, survivors of the Holocaust staggered out of the ashes of the death camps and made their way (mostly illegally) to the shores of the yet-to-be declared State of Israel. I realize there are plenty of political issues surrounding the founding of Israel the nation, and there’s plenty to say about the politics of the region. But despite all of that, no one can deny that so much has been done in so little time. Amazing hardly describes the place. You simply have to see it for yourself to understand what progress, in the face of adversity, means. (more…)

Friendly Planet Travel is 30 years old thanks to you

One of the things I’m often asked is how did Friendly Planet Travel start. And I’m being asked this even more today because I’ve been telling everyone that we reached our 30th year in business.

That’s quite an accomplishment in the world of travel, so I thought I would share that story here on the blog. But before I do, I want to thank you.

Without you booking our tours for the past three decades, we wouldn’t have been able to come this far. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

So let’s get to the story. Thirty years ago I was a single mother of two searching for a full-time position teaching English to support my family. I took a job as a travel agent in the interim just to pay the bills.

It was at that job that I first heard about the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors that was going to be taking place in Israel. It was the first time that survivors of the Holocaust would meet in Jerusalem.

I seized the opportunity to create my first group tour. It consisted of 200 local Holocaust survivors and their families who I would help take part in this historic gathering. Little did I know that at that moment, my teaching career was over.

Organizing and then participating in that first group tour to Israel was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. We witnessed Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin stand on the Western Wall in Jerusalem saying “never again” in many different languages. It was extraordinary.

That first group tour unleashed a passion — maybe even an obsession — that needed to be satisfied by doing it again and again. And that’s how Friendly Planet Travel was established.

From there I kept selling group tours to Israel, and I soon extended them to Christian organizations. I spoke in churches all across America about why, from the perspective of a child of Holocaust survivors, it was important for Christians to be supportive of Israel. It was a great personal and professional experience, and the groups evolved and grew in number.

Eventually business expanded outside of religious groups, and I started adding new, exotic destinations. Today we have over 54 tours to exotic points around the globe to choose from — from the Middle East, to Africa, to Asia, to Europe, to the Mediterranean, to Central American, to South America.

Throughout our growth, we’ve also seen the travel industry change dramatically. The Internet’s ability to let you book your own trip put a lot of travel agencies out of business. But we stayed a step ahead to keep giving you new ways to experience more exotic parts of the world. In fact, Friendly Planet Travel was one of the first tour operators to develop an escorted touring program exclusively for the Web.

It’s embarrassing to admit this now, but I didn’t know what the Internet was when people first started talking about it! But someone suggested that it would be good for business, so I decided to check it out. We launched Friendly Planet Travel’s website in 2001 and anxiously waited for the phones to start ringing — and they did!

Happily, they are still ringing today, all those years later. Later, we added the ability to book a tour online. And just this year, you might have noticed our new booking engine that lets you personalize your vacations using our build-your-own-cruise engine.

As incredible as it was to have launched an Internet travel business so long ago, it was inconceivable that we would become pioneers of the social media revolution. I never considered that at my age, I would find myself in the midst of so much new and exciting social media activity.

We launched our travel blog in 2009, and it has become a key component of our customer communications. In fact, you might remember it being featured by FOXNews Live for the way we use it to update travelers on breaking travel news, new travel trends, share expert travel advice, media coverage, videos, interviews, and more.

Back in 1981, I never thought about where I would end up in 30 years. Now, three decades later, I’m still here. I feel so lucky to have what to me feels like the best job in the world. Thank you for booking our tours to make it all possible. :)

SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing takes the weight off your shoulders

Scott Jordan, CEO and founder of SCOTTEVEST 

I’m kicking off my search for the perfect travel gear today with an ingenious article of clothing — SCOTTEVEST. It lets women and men travel hands free. The SCOTTEVEST really caught my eye and my attention because I always carry a purse or a large tote bag when I travel.

The bag contains all my things for the flight, including my travel documents, netbook, iPhone, books, a change of underwear, cosmetics, and anything else I can’t live without for the duration of the trip abroad.

It all fits inside the tote, but that tote becomes pretty heavy once it’s loaded. And what a mess when I have to go through security! And with all that stuff inside the tote, imagine me trying to quickly put my hands on my iPhone when it rings. No way. It’s buried with all the other stuff. The phone usually stops ringing before I can get to it.

And men are in a similar boat. They use a backpack or other bag to hold their wallet, documents, smart phone, camera, etc. This extra bulk can weigh down your travel experience — literally.

SCOTTEVEST Travel Clothing is stylish clothing that actually saves you from having to carry around purses and bags, since every garment has tons of pockets where you can securely stow gear and gadgets. I know this might seem impossible, but when you see them for yourself, you’ll understand why these garments are so ingenious and helpful.

The SCOTTEVEST trademark vest has 22 pockets alone. It actually has special places for everything I carry in my tote bag, plus a pockets for a water bottle and a small camera. And guess what? The items don’t bulge out making you look (and feel) like a pack horse, and the vest is made from breathable, lightweight material making it quite comfortable to wear.

I have never promoted items on this blog, but honestly, it seems to me that SCOTTEVEST clothing has managed to solve a very common problem for travelers. I think Friendly Planet travelers would find them ideal for our tours.

For example, the vest is suited for travel in safari vehicles, which typically have little storage space even for a purse or hand luggage. Or, consider our island hopping tours, where frequently getting on and off boats makes having hands free to steady yourself virtually a must!

I loved the whole idea behind the clothes and was delighted when Scott Jordan, the founder and CEO of SCOTTEVEST agreed to be interviewed by Melissa, a Friendly Planet blogger, for a podcast.

During their interview, Melissa found out how Scott’s clothing aids travelers in getting through airport security faster, eliminates the need for a carry-on bag, what destinations it’s ideal for, and more. He also gave us a sneak peek at what they’ll be introducing for the holiday season. (Hint: It involves an article of clothing usually only seen by the wearer.)

SCOTTEVEST is also sponsoring the No Baggage Challenge with Rolf Potts. Rolf’s a travel writer who embarked on a six-week worldwide trip without using any luggage, just his SCOTTEVEST clothing. Scott’s been talking to Rolf frequently and Melissa got an update on how his challenge is going so far.

Scott also just talked travel. You’ll find out why he loves Israel and Morocco, and he makes his case as to why everyone should experience Burning Man once in their lifetime. What Scott didn’t know when he spoke to us is that our very own webmaster, Cameron Clark, has been to a number of Burning Man events. He can echo Scott’s endorsement of the adventure.

So turn up your speakers or pop in your ear buds, and listen to Melissa’s interview with Scott. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole conversation, I’ll be posting the transcript in a few days. But in the meantime, leave a comment on this post if you own a piece of clothing from SCOTTEVEST and tell me what you think about it.

Airport security: A world of difference between the U.S. and Israel

It all sounds good. But I fear it’s also empty promises. I just returned from Tel Aviv, Israel. I kept a keen eye on security procedures throughout my trip. I saw some changes to security. But I was also again reminded of the differences between the U.S. approach and the rules and procedures Israel has in place.

On January 6th, I checked in at Philadelphia International Airport to fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. One noticeable change at the airport was increased presence of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. I counted 10 plus a dog in the area (many more than usual). About an hour from landing, the captain asked us to take our seats. We were then required to remain seated when we were 30 minutes from landing.

Other than that, it seemed to me to be business as usual. That’s not to say security was lax. Certainly U.S. airport security has become much tighter since 9/11. But other than more TSA officers and being asked to remain seated, additional security precautions were not apparent to me.

Now let’s compare the current state of U.S. airport security to Israel’s approach. In Tel Aviv, security is in place long before you arrive at the airport. On the highway, you have to pass through a checkpoint manned by Israeli border police. Officers look into your car and assess the occupants before letting the car pass through to the airport access road.

You’re screened again upon arrival at the terminal. The men and women who perform the security checks are highly trained in evaluating travelers. They look for telltale signs, check stories, ask questions, and stare you in the eye as you answer their questions.

They are skilled at noticing subconscious body language (“tells“) that can reveal when someone is lying. And they will pull you aside for deeper questioning or other actions if they have the slightest concern. You can’t check in for your flight until these officers are satisfied that you don’t pose a risk. In fact, you can easily be interviewed multiple times by various agents if any one of them doubts about your motives.

Your checked luggage is also screened before you check in for your flight. Nothing gets to the counter — much less the airplane itself — without quiet, comprehensive, repetitive scrutiny.

Ben Gurion International Airport has not had a terrorist incident nearly 40 years, despite being surrounded by legions of Jihadists who would gladly sacrifice themselves. And guess what? They maintain this successful level of security for travelers without asking any to remove their shoes.

I’m not saying international travel isn’t safe. What I am saying is that the world should take a hard look at how Israel protects travelers, and ask what we can learn from their impeccable track record. It’s especially impressive when you consider, again, that Israel is probably the radicals number one target for destruction.

It’s a shame that, since the incident with the so-called underwear bomber, some folks have been inconvenienced more than is probably necessary. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about “the new airport security,” where delays and lines are longer and more tedious. While this is true in some U.S. airports, I didn’t experience this in Tel Aviv. It’s an interesting contrast. Ben Gurion International has tighter security, yet it is easier for travelers to deal with.

Despite the failed underwear bomber attempt, the TSA’s measures are clearly working most of the time. Otherwise, we would have experienced more incidents like the near-miss on Christmas Day, or worse. That said, we don’t want and can’t afford any more near misses or successful attacks.

We should learn from the best. And right now, the best airport security operation is in Israel. Let’s hope the TSA is paying attention.

Transcript of podcast with Allan Rabinowitz as he walks the Israel Trail

If you’d rather read my chat with Allan Rabinowitz, Friendly Planet Travel Israel tour guide, you can have a look at the transcript. I had such a wonderful talk with Allan, that I want to make sure everyone is able to share in the joy and inspiration that he shares with us as he walks the Israel Trail in memory if his mother.

 FP_AllanRabinowitz_TX.jpg

Catching up with Allan Rabinowitz and his incredible journey on the Israel Trail

A few weeks ago Peggy introduced you to Allan Rabinowitz, the Friendly Planet Travel guide who is currently walking the entire length of the Israel trail with his family to raise money for and awareness of ALS. Inspired by the memory of his mother who, in 2008, passed away from the debilitating disease, Allan is experiencing the country he loves in an amazing new way: step by step.

Allan took some time to speak with me recently as he walked through the streets of Jersualem. At the time, he, his wife, and his son were almost half way through their 625-mile journey on foot. You can learn more about Allan’s incredible experience and track their progress on his Web site, Walking the Land – for those who can’tFacebook, Twitter, YouTube, and by listening to our podcast below. If you would like to donate to help fight ALS, you can do so on the main Web site.

Friendly Planet tour guide Allan Rabinowitz walks the Israel Trail to fight ALS

Allan Rabinowitz knew there was something special about Israel when he first visited the country over 20 years ago … because he never left! And today Allan is using his love of the country to help him honor the memory of his mother, who in 2008, passed away after battling ALS. Israeltrailsc.jpg

Allan, his wife, and their 18-year-old son are walking the entire length of the Israel Trail to honor the memory of his mother and to raise money to fight the debilitating disease that ultimately ended her life. Here’s what Allan has to say about his trip:

The day we got the message that my mother, Lee, suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), we knew that from that moment on we were facing a painful and despairing death: Her neurological disorder stole her ability to hug, to speak, to eat, to walk, to move her limbs and even to breathe. With gigantic effort she murmured to us "I love you."But we couldn’t help her.

My mother, Lee Rabinowitz, died of Lou Gehrig’s (ALS) in the summer of 2008.

In her memory , my wife Tzippi, my son Ezra and I, will start backpacking the entire Israel Trail from north to south, some 1,000 winding kilometers (625 miles). Our goal is to raise both ALS awareness and funds for ALS research in Israel. This is the best way we know to express thanks for our miraculous ability to walk.


We will be very encouraged in our journey if you join us: You can do that by viewing our blogs, photos and video clips of Biblical sites as we progress.


And equally important, you can join our effort by "sponsoring" one or more kilometers, at $36/km, so that ALS research can advance as we advance. We deeply appreciate your participation in this effort.
Together we can do it.
Let’s walk the land for those who can’t. Can I count on your support?

Today, Allan is roughly a month into the journey, and he’s raised over $28,000. Our blogger and podcaster Bridget was able to catch up with him over the phone, and we’ll be posting that soon. During their chat, they spoke about what keeps Allan moving during this challenging trip, what inspired him to take his first step, and how the kindness of strangers continues to amaze. So stay tuned!

But for now, you can follow Allan’s progress on his blog, Walking the Land – for those who can’t, and on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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