Friends from home, Shane and Becky Boettcher, had the opportunity to stay in Israel last year for a few months. They knew they would be returning sometime in the fall of 2016. When I publicly announced this backpacking journey, they invited me to visit them in Israel. I responded, “I would love to. When will you be there?” Becky replied, “We don’t know yet!” And so it was set. I would be visiting them in Israel.
When the Boettcher Family established their travel dates, I looked at my schedule and visiting Israel “fell” into place.
If your thinking of visiting Israel, there are a couple of things you should know about the process of getting there and the country itself. I’d like to share a couple of learning curves I had to help your experience go smoother.
- You will get extensive questioning at the airport. Before you check in for your flight, they may ask a load of questions regarding your travel purpose, where you are going to stay, how long you plan to stay, if you know someone who is there, what the occupation is of the person you know living there, etc. They may ask you these questions several times in several different ways. This is for your safety and the safety of the country. Remember, Israel has been attacked on and off for nearly their entire existence. They want to make sure you are on the up and up. Please be patient, kind and let them do what they need to. However, if you are not able to answer these questions fully with detail, they may let you know that everything you own will be searched and flag your belongings as such.
- If you take a “budget” airline carrier like I did, the check in process may be a hassle. I attempted to check in online prior to my airport arrival but received an error message. I figured I could check in no problem with the agent. Wrong. He said I would have to check in online for free or pay $10 to check in at the desk with him. I told him I was unable to check in online so just charge what he needed to charge. Wrong again. He sent me on a hike to the computer kiosk to check in. Since I was checking my backpack, the kiosk would not print a boarding pass until I paid for the bag. Back to the check in desk I went. The airline charged $70 for a checked bag. Yes, $70!! However, he wound up charging my card and printing my boarding pass…which is the SAME THING as checking me in! BUT he saved me $10, so I guess it was a win.
- After playing twenty questions with the check-in security and ring around the computer kiosk with the counter agent, I was finally allowed to go through security in Prague to find…there was none. Prague Airport has security at each individual gate.
- When the gate opened, I walked up to go through but the check in security agent had placed an additional security sticky note in my passport as the flag to dig through all my belongings. The security officer asked if I had been given a blue piece of paper stating what time I was to enter the gate. I had not received this paper. She asked me to wait for about twenty minutes outside the gate until her colleague(s) arrived to lend additional help. One hour and twenty-five minutes later, I was able to go through security. My hands were swabbed, my electronics were swabbed, every item in my backpack was swabbed. After each swab, they ran the tissue through a machine which either ok’d it or signaled a warning. Everything was a go until the very end. My wallet. My cheap, “Made in China”, bought at a junk store in Italy, plastic wallet set off the alarm. It is very important to remember to stay calm through all of this. These agents are following their orders for protection. It is not worth fighting with them, panicking, crying or any other response you may muster up. Just let them do their job and do what they ask of you.
- At this point, I found out there is another whole level of security. This is the part of the story where they asked me to follow them behind the curtain. You may have already guessed it; I was body searched. Two women patted me down and used the beeping wand on me. Beyond the next set of curtains, another agent was patting and strip searching my wallet. They would not let me take my wallet on to the plane with me but were happy to slip it in to my checked bag which was also getting strip searched.
- Needless to say, I made is safely to Israel. Fortunately, the flight itself was nowhere near as eventful as the preflight pat down party.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Always use a computer kiosk first when checking in. Always know where you are staying when you arrive to your destination. Always calmly do what airline security asks of you. Always wear bra and underwear that you would not be too embarrassed for airport security agents to see. Never buy a cheap plastic wallet from a knickknacks store in Italy before traveling to Israel.
Is Israel really worth all the possible hassle at the airport? Absolutely. It has been worth every single pat.
More Israel to come.