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#FriendlyFiles: Experiencing Jerusalem

One of our newest Sales Team members, Lucy, shares her take on the wonder and adventure that Israel has in store for those who visit. Check out her tips for how to get the most out of your bucket-list trip to this destination!

Israel is much more than a religious destination. It is a country where ancient meets modern. While some travelers visit for a pilgrimage or spiritual awareness, others trek to this small Mediterranean country for the history, architecture, and nightlife–and Israel excels in all of these aspects! My family and I moved to Talpiot, a neighborhood in southeastern Jerusalem, when I was very young. And even after living there for more than 14 years, I still find new ways to fall in love with it every time I return! No matter what drives you to travel to this incredible place, I can promise you will leave awestruck!

Each alleyway has an adventure! Jerusalem Old Arab Quater ©Dan/Flickr

Each alleyway has an adventure! Jerusalem Old Arab Quater ©Dan/Flickr

Get Lost.

“Getting lost” might sound like a silly thing to do in a foreign place, but sometimes those moments are the most memorable! The best place to lose yourself is in Jerusalem’s Old City. With so many narrow alleyways and packed streets, you’re sure to find something unique on every corner. On my most recent trip back, I was exploring and came across a part of the Old City I had never seen before! Despite living there for over a decade, I managed to find myself falling in love with places I’m still discovering.

The smell of spices from a Jerusalem market are not easily forgotten! ©Blues Brother/Flickr

The smell of spices from a Jerusalem market are not easily forgotten! ©Blues Brother/Flickr

Close your eyes and open up your senses.

This is a tip I use regardless of where I am traveling. In a place as vibrant and rich as Jerusalem, closing your eyes and letting your nose and ears experience this new place is just as important. It is a whole different way to experience a nation. When you close your eyes, your ears open up and begin to notice things you may not have before. Have you ever been on vacation and only worn one type of perfume/cologne and the next time you wear it back at home you are suddenly transported back to that vacation? It is known as olfactory memory, and anytime I smell shawarma cooking, I am immediately transported back to the old city, and all these beautiful memories start rushing back.

Small plates of salads, vegetables, pickles, hummus, and more! ©Paolo Mutti/Flickr

Small plates of salads, vegetables, pickles, hummus, and more! ©Paolo Mutti/Flickr

Eat like the locals.

If there’s one thing you should know, it’s that Israelis like to eat! From busy markets to trendy restaurants and everything in between–shopping for and sharing tasty foods are staples of Israel’s rich culture. One of my favorite local dishes is ka’ak with za’atar. Ka’ak translated means street bread, which is a long oval shaped bread coated in sesame seeds, and za’atar is a middle eastern spice blend. This was my favorite afternoon snack to pick up for my walk home. It is best when the za’atar is mixed with olive oil so you can dip the bread in a flavorful oil. I can taste it now just writing about it!

For all you foodie travelers, don’t skip a visit to the Mahane Yehuda Market. This shuk (market) is chock-full of vendors selling cheese, fruits, meats and home goods! Be sure to go on an empty stomach because the local falafel and hummus is a must! If your itinerary has some evening free-time, it’s also a great spot to visit after the vendors have closed down and the market comes alive with tiny bars and restaurants.

And once you’ve picked out your dining spot, be prepared to eat together! It’s not uncommon for local restaurants to serve what’s called a mezze, or a collection of small dishes (such as hummus, salads, pickles, olive oil and pita bread), that everyone samples from together. Sharing a meal together gives everyone a chance to slow down for a moment, take in the bustling surroundings, and really experience the joy of spending time with friends.

Join a local Israeli family for Shabbat ©Sharon Gott/Flickr

Join a local Israeli family for Shabbat ©Sharon Gott/Flickr


Shabbat for the Jewish faith starts sunset on Friday night and ends sunset on Saturday night. It is a complete day of rest so don’t be surprised to find the streets nearly empty and most vendors closed. According to tradition you are not supposed to work, including the use of electronics. You may even come across elevators that are in Shabbat mode, stopping at every floor so those observing this religious tradition aren’t required to push any buttons! I’m excited that our Discover Israel tour includes sharing in a Shabbat dinner with a local family. They will invite you into their home and you get to witness this unique tradition which includes prayer, candle lighting, blessings, and dinner together.

#FriendlyFiles follows Friendly Planet’s adventurous staff as they travel the world. It is crucial that our team experiences first-hand the sites, hotels, food and transportation so that we know exactly how the trip will feel for our travelers—and to help us as we strive to provide experiences, not sightseeing!

#Friendly Files: 10 Tips For Your Next Trip To India

Recently Greg, Friendly Planet’s Marketing Manager, traveled to India and picked up a few travel tricks of the trade along the way. Below he offers ten tips to consider before you book your own adventure to the subcontinent.

I’m in love with India, and I don’t care who knows it! My infatuation with the country started a few years ago when my wife and I backpacked from South to North. Recently I got another unexpected but entirely welcomed opportunity to head back for two weeks, and along the way, I picked up a few tidbits of hard-earned travel knowledge that might be worth imparting. Some of these tips are very practical. Some of them are slightly more facetious. But whether it’s seeing you through a common misunderstanding or propelling you into a deeper dive of the culture, all of them will be helpful on your next trip to India.

1. Embrace change

You might be expecting something about how spectacularly different India’s culture is from our own. Or some time ruminating on how this very traditional society is evolving on the cutting edge of the world’s urban, technological and entertainment landscapes. But no. What I really mean is…save your change! Small bills and rupee coins are at a premium in India, and it’s no fun paying 100 rupees for a glass of lassi that only costs ten just because the vendor doesn’t have any change. If you exchange your dollars for rupees before you leave, you’re likely heading to India stocked with ₹500, ₹1000 and ₹2000 notes. The ATMs over there offer the same denominations. But everyday necessities and small souvenirs won’t usually cost this much. So when you have the opportunity, get some change, and consider it one of your hottest travel commodities.


“What’s the best place you’ve been to?”

As travel professionals, we get this question all the time, “Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?” So we asked one of our amazing Reservation Agents Liz to weigh in! See below for some of her personal travel favorites…. so far! 
Wat Rong Khun, Thailand ©Carlos Adampol Galindo/Flickr

5 Thailand (Wat Rong Khun AKA White Temple)

Bangkok is of course the favorite city of most visitors, but I also loved northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Among the tiered tea fields and charming villages, you’ll encounter treasures around every corner. One of my favorite memories was of Wat Rong Khun, AKA White Temple, en route to Chiang Mai. After seeing so many temples in Asia, this one stands out with its modern and incredibly detailed design. In 1996 the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, using his own money, chose to completely rebuild this temple himself. Over a million dollars later, it’s still a work in progress, and is hoped to be completed by 2070. Aside from traditional Buddhist imagery, you’ll see movie references like the monster from Predator rising from the earth. Eliciting both smiles and serious thoughts, this stop on the tour was well appreciated.


#FriendlyFiles: Denise explores Ireland!

Recently our Groups Manager, Denise Barnes, traveled to Ireland to meet with our partners on the ground there and experience all that the Emerald Isle has to offer!

Dublin Musicians © Tourism Ireland
I grew up in London, but this was my first trip to Ireland! I can’t believe I hadn’t made the trip before, and from the moment I arrived, I fell in love. Its diversity, people, traditions, and history—and yes, more shades of green than can be counted—made for an unforgettable trip. There were so many amazing experiences, but here are a few that stood out the most:
Epic Ireland, Dublin © Tourism Ireland

1 Epic Ireland: The Irish Emigration Museum, Dublin

Arriving at the Irish Emigration Museum was truly a 21st century experience. It was inspiring to hear and see the stories of millions of Irish emigrants who left for all corners of the globe (including the U.S.) on display as we wandered through this modern museum. With more than twenty exhibits, it helped me really understand more about Ireland and its colorful history—including how Irish emigrants have influenced and shaped the world both in the past and today!

#FriendlyFiles: 5 Favorite Experiences in Havana

Recently Katie, Friendly Planet’s Cuba Program Coordinator, traveled to one of our hottest destinations: Havana, Cuba! Check out her top five favorite moments included on our Authentic Havana tour!

Muraleando Photo by Dan Lundberg

1 Muraleando

You can’t miss the building of Muraleando; its mural/mosaic artwork stretches out into the streets, extending its impact to anyone who passes by! Muraleando, literally meaning ‘mural-making’, was started by local artists Manuel Diaz Baldrich and Ernesto Quirch Paz with the intention of giving at-risk youth motivation to improve themselves and their community. Their workshop, originally an abandoned and rusty water tower, has become a beautiful public space through the collaborative creativity! (more…)