I sent this to my travel agent. I hope you find it useful.
I’m a customer who just returned from Israel , Jordan , and Egypt . I did the “Into the Promised Land” tour. I am in no way affiliated with the
company that gave you this. I have taken the ‘long flights’ overseas eight times now and many dozens of times across the US . I don’t know if
that makes me a “seasoned traveler,” but I do mostly know what to expect, not that I always like it. Below are some points I either learned or
wish I had learned about traveling. In other words, I’ve made some of the mistakes I list here. I’ve been guilty! I’ve also observed behavior
that was unnecessary or embarrassing. I hope these points are useful to you. If you follow them, I believe you will have a more enjoyable trip. I know
I do. If you find yourself bristling at my dos and don’ts here, (Yeah, I know I’m sarcastic. It’s a part of the service.) I beg you to not go on
1.This is not a vacation. It is not a cruise. It is not a shopping trip. It is not an opportunity to lie on the beach in the sun and forget the rigors
of life in the US . It is a pilgrimage to important historical religious places. You are following in the footsteps of Moses. At times the pace is
brisk. Be prepared to walk ten miles a day. You won’t have to every day, but you might on some days. Bring two pairs of good shoes so that you can
alternate. Be prepared for blisters (moleskin and all that.) Bald men had better bring a hat. Bring two hats because you will lose one, or one of you
might find my San Diego Zoo hat in the Sinai desert. An odometer might be fun for you. They are not expensive.
If you want a vacation, go to Club Med (for the newly wed, the over fed, and the nearly dead.) This trip is the opposite to Club Med. It probably is
NOT a good ‘first trip abroad.’ It might be smarter to get your feet wet in a more compatible place before tackling this. If you are reluctant
(and I hope I don’t make you reluctant. It was wonderful!), don’t do this.
2.You must be in good physical shape to take this tour. I’m sorry to say this, but if you are overweight, unless it is all muscle, you’re going to
have a problem. There are 720 steps to the top of Mt. Sinai . It is two miles down a steep sandy incline to Petra , and two miles back up. Alternative
transportation (camels, carts, horses, donkeys, cars) are not always available and it will cost you extra. The cost might be dependent on how
desperate you are. (I saw one red-faced overweight exhausted guy on a horse the last mile saying, “Good donkey!” The Arab walking up said, “He
called my horse a donkey!” It was very funny.) It’s rare to find an ADA compatible place. Some places are cramped, dark, claustrophobic, crowded,
hot, smelly, and steep. If you have problems with cramped, dark, claustrophobic, crowded, hot, smelly, and steep places, you might want to
3.The amount of ‘stuff’ you bring with you will affect your enjoyment. It’s often a trade-off. Some people get by with very small bags, but they
are going to wash their clothes every night. Washing in a hotel room sink can be a hassle. A 26” bag is a nice compromise. You can buy
“micro-weave” clothing at places like Travel Smith that dries quickly. They also have extra secret pockets that can prove useful. Most people
bring too much stuff. Do you really need three sweaters? Just bring one.
4.Companies will always tell you to bring a sewing kit and a first aid kit. They just forget to tell you to bring a box of quart zip-lock bags, a roll
of duct tape, small packets of Kleenex, and a Swiss army knife or Leatherman multi-tool. Wear it on your belt or in your purse AFTER you get in
country. You’ll need it to break into your bag when the chintzy lock breaks. You’ll need it to fix your glasses. Oh, yeah. Bring an extra pair of
glasses. Think of what would happen if your glasses broke. Very bad news.
5.I’ve tried using kitchen bags for dirty clothes, but this has a down side. You’ve been sweating and the bags are plastic. It will get damp
inside the bag and it might get moldy. I’ve taken to layering dirty clothes at the bottom of the bag or using a breathable mesh bag within a bag for
old clothes. You can find ‘packing organizers’ that are ‘bags within a bag.’ I have one for underwear, one for socks, and one big one for
shirts. Boom, boom, boom, and I’m packed. It’s that easy. (Note: A shirt won’t last you more than two days tops. That was my first screw up. I
brought three shirts to England for two weeks and in three days of ten miles a day walking I was wasting hours washing shirts at the local
Laundromat.) That was a serious error on my part I’ve never repeated.
6.Bring a roll of toilet paper. Bring two. Keep them with you at all times. Just put them in those white paper ice cream bags and no one will know.
Not all restrooms have toilet paper and some will charge you for it. Save some grief. Bring your own. You have been warned. My wife always bails out
those who find themselves without. I think she should charge them for it. LOOK for TP BEFORE you sit down. I’ve done this for ALL my trips so far
and never needed it—until this time.
7.You will drink lots of water. It’s a dry heat that doesn’t seem as hot as it really is. If you do not you will become dehydrated. The bus will
have plenty of water at a nominal fee. Drink more than you think you need. You’ll either be glad you did or wind up very, VERY sick, as in hospital
sick with an IV in your arm. This is no lie. Pay attention. (I’ve been very close myself and leaned my lesson.) If you don’t need to use the
restroom that means you are not drinking enough water. That’s your gauge to see if you are drinking enough. If you’ve got to go, then you’re
8.Bring a watch. Be on time. If you are not on time, the bus may leave without you. If you miss the bus, you can take a taxi. If you tend to miss
deadlines, have plenty of money for taxi fares. There’s nothing more frustrating than an entire bus load of people waiting for one last clueless
person to figure out it is time to leave. It’s not funny to be late. You will not be loved or respected if you are chronically late.
9.In some places, like the Wailing Wall, men and women are separated. That’s the way it is. Your local chapter of NOW isn’t available. Look at it
this way. You could be in Saudi Arabia . Besides, women get senior citizen discounts at 60 and men do at 65. You win some and you lose some.
10.Don’t put anything you can’t afford to lose in your suitcase. Carry it with you. That includes medicine. What good is your medicine if it’s
in a lost suitcase? It doesn’t happen very often, but it has happened. Carry your medicine, and your toilet paper, and your water with you to avoid
the problem. Here’s an idea. Don’t put you suitcase outside your room and have it hauled down. They’ll always say you CAN do it, but do it
yourself and maintain control..
11.Here’s another idea. Carry a fake wallet in your back pocket with a couple of bucks as a decoy. It’s just a precaution. Carry your real wallet
in a front zippered pocket. I never felt “at risk” but the Arab places are a little riskier than others where people press close and there are a
lot of children around. If you travel with a spouse and have two credit cards, you take both copies of one and let your spouse take both copies of the
other. If you do lose one or get it stolen, you have the other one. By the way, the curry smells wonderful!
12.In Egypt you will travel with an armed guard provided by the government. He will sit at the front of the bus. He will guard the sidewalk when you
exit the bus. He will accompany you to the restroom. He doesn’t talk much, but he is packing a large weapon you will never see if he can help it.
The hotel has a secure, guarded perimeter. I believe you are safe in Egypt . The government values the tourist economy and is trying to ensure your
13.You will frequently see muzzles of weapons pointing out of pillboxes. You will see Hummers with machine guns on top parked in tent enclosures along
the roadway. You will have random security stops where armed soldiers may board the bus. Soldiers tend to be very young, 18 to 20 years old. They
don’t all wear uniforms and may strut their weapons in a menacing manner. It’s for show. They know what they are doing. You may see some tanks. DO
NOT EVER take pictures of any of this. Do not attempt to take a picture of a security guard with a weapon. This isn’t London and you will be
required to erase it on the spot. It’s best to keep your cameras down and out of sight during these times.
14.Try not to belittle the size of the Jordan River , at least out loud. Even if you know in advance, it’s kind of surprising. To some of us used to
the Mississippi or the Columbia , it’s not much bigger than a creek. But as one Brit said of the Thames , “The Mississippi is mere muddy water.
THIS is liquid history!” The River Jordan is liquid history.
15.Things change. Sometimes an attraction will close or open during times the guides do not know in advance. “Best laid plans” and all that. That
means your schedule may change. If the pyramids are foggy you might have to switch schedules at a moment’s notice. Don’t freak out. Go with the
flow. You don’t want to see the Great Pyramid shrouded in fog, do you? This is an adventure. When you are on an adventure, sometimes you are late
for dinner and sometimes you have to unexpectedly get up early. You’re not really going to get angry about this are you? If you can’t stand
change, don’t leave home. I’ve seen grown-ups actually behave this way.
16.You will not be in the United States . Things are different overseas. You may be shocked. People don’t stand in mindful lines. Walking through a
bazaar is a contact sport. You will get bumped; you will bump into others. Restrooms may be a hole in the ground. Everything is not a five star
location. You will see poverty and dirt, sickly feral cats and flies. (Don’t pet the cats. They are not pets and they bite.) People have a different
sense of personal space, usually closer. They don’t like you criticizing the way they live. Be respectful.
17.Don’t mess with border guards or customs agents. They are not impressed with your “civil rights” which you DO NOT HAVE in a foreign country.
Don’t engage them in conversations. Just answer their questions with “Yes” or “No” if you can. They can be arrogant. They can be slow. They
can be inefficient. They often seem to delight in upsetting you. They probably don’t like you very much, and they have loaded M-16s. I’ve watched
people get surly with border guards, and they wonder why they are detained for a little extra interrogation (thus delaying the entire group.). A
little humility on your part could ease your passage considerably. And for God’s sakes don’t try to bribe them. You might see it happen, but
don’t be a copy cat. There’s a ritual there that you don’t know. You could put the entire group at risk. Your goal in crossing a border or
checkpoint is to get through it safely to the other side. That’s your only goal.
18.Speaking of bribes, you might see your guide spreading some wealth around. Don’t worry about it. Lots of times they are paying for services
rendered. Maybe the tour bus got a better parking spot next to the door of the hotel. Maybe it was allowed to stop at a place that would normally get
it a ticket. Maybe somebody got out of the way to accommodate you. Maybe somebody helped your group and you didn’t realize it. They get paid for
stuff like this. They get a tip. That’s normal.
19.Street vendors can be a real pain. They are aggressive—especially at the pyramids. Lots of stuff is “Only one dollah!” and sold by kids as
young as four. They are just trying to make a living, but be careful. If you make eye contact with them they will be your new best friend. They’ll
offer to take a picture of you with your camera, then charge you to give it back. Want to sit on a camel for free? OK, but there’s a charge to get
you off. You can’t jump off a camel like you can a horse. Camels put you way high in the air. There’s nothing wrong with buying a dozen post cards
for a dollar, but be careful you don’t get tricked here. One guy told me, “These frayed cards are one dollah, but the ones in cellophane are two
dollahs!” (He didn’t say the phrase, but “indicated” to me this was the case. I called him on it and got good cards in cellophane and a pat on
the back.) Vendors will usually accept half what they are asking. Wait them out. They want the sale.
20.The guide may take you to an ‘official government store.’ You will be shown a demonstration of some sort, like how papyrus is made, then given
a tray to hold your purchases. You are not required to buy anything. Nothing at all. If you’ve never encountered this before you may be surprised or
even affronted, but be aware that this is the way it works all over the world. Whether you are in China or Turkey or Israel , it’s the same deal.
Your guide gets a percentage of the sales. Don’t be afraid to negotiate here. Go as low as you can until they say “No” with conviction. Then
walk away and see what happens.
21.Yes, it’s true Egyptians are crazy drivers. They have 4-lane freeways, but the lanes are optional. They usually make about six lanes out of four.
There are no stop lights in Cairo . They just go for it. We’d all be in jail if we drove like that. Somehow it all works. Our guide said it was
because “we trust each other.”
22.It doesn’t matter what religion you are, of course, but you will be at some of the most holy places on Earth for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Take off or put on your hat when you are told to. (It gets confusing and is gender related.) “Modest dress” does not mean cut-offs and a tank top.
Cover up from shoulders to knees or stay outside. You do not have the “right” to dress as you please. If you are in a church, talk softly. If
services are being held, be QUIET or don’t go in. I don’t as a matter of respect.
23.Lots of places have a “no pictures” or a “no flash” rule. Modern cameras, including point-and-shoots, have an automatic flash. Learn to
turn yours OFF before you start taking pictures. Light can harm old pictures and art. If you can’t figure out how to turn your flash off, ask
someone else to show you. It’s not that hard and if you do it right you won’t get yelled at. Special batteries may be difficult to recharge. Many
hotel rooms require a room key to activate the electricity and you have to have the correct adaptor. I use double AA batteries as an alternative for
my camera. It’s just easier. Batteries overseas are more expensive. Buy them at home and bring them with you.
24.This one is really bad. We had a woman in our group who was really cute and liked to flirt with the guys. Arabic men, really handsome guys on the
whole, ate it up. She quite obviously loved and was accustomed to the attention. One day she decided she wanted to touch a guy who happened to be an
Orthodox Jew. (Hello? You can tell by how they dress.) He tried to be friendly and nice, but he avoided her touch. This emboldened her, so she wound
up literally chasing him, and he ran away from her. She chased him clear across the hotel lobby. She was actually angry over this and pouted onto the
bus complaining. What she failed to realize was that if he had been touched by her this would make him ‘impure’ and require him to ritually bathe
and cleanse himself of this impurity. This behavior may seem strange to us, but this is an excellent example of how ignorance of local customs can
lead to an Ugly American incident. This person was uneducated (but well off) and very intolerant of anyone who did not agree with everything she said,
and she wound up a very disappointed and sullen traveler by the time the tour ended.
25.OK. Dating. You know what I’m talking about, right? Not all Muslim women cover their faces and many are extremely attractive. Forget it. You want
to live to a ripe old age. In the Middle East this could get you or someone else into SERIOUS trouble. “Jail bait” does not even begin to describe
it. As in the US Embassy can’t help you and your parents won’t be able to bail you out. It’s an entirely different set of expectations and rules
over there. Sometimes it’s subtle. There is a time and place for everything. Over there is not the time or place. You’re not in liberal Europe .
You’re not on a nude beach in the Netherlands . (Are there any??) Be careful. It’s not worth it.
26.My favorite. Here we are at the garden next to Golgotha . This is one place where the crucifixion might have happened. There’s a tomb in the
wall. Who knows? This might have been the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb might have been the one where Jesus was buried. It’s the right
time and the right place, but, of course, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that this is a ‘traditional’ site. In other words, if it is
not really the site, it is symbolically the site. It may not even have happened, but symbolically, that’s the place. So why are people compelled to
have their picture taken in front of the tomb with a silly grin on their face? Do people not really understand how idiotic they appear? How can people
do this? It’s all about respect.
27.If you have a moustache, you’ll have more fun. (Sorry, ladies.) This really opened doors for me with Arabs (and Turks, too.) For some reason they
just love a bushy moustache. One Arab said, “That’s been there for a long time!” (It’s grey.) Another gave me free reign on a taxi ride
telling me to pay him what I wanted, also because we and the Poles (see below) “loved each other.” It was a fun connection.
28.Our bus was a rainbow bus. We had four Filipinos, four Indonesians, 3 from Colombia , one each from Guatemala , Mexico , Costa Rica , and China .
Two from Romania , two from Poland , all major races, seven languages, all Americans, and all obviously getting along just fine with each other. I
think we surprised some people. You could see them be puzzled. They just didn’t know how to take it when they saw the bus unload, a white guy with
his arm around a Black woman with her husband laughing beside them, or a white guy and a Filipino laughing at each other’s jokes. One Israeli said
in awe, “That’s your strength!” We don’t realize how well we get along. We can do some good and teach other’s that it can work just with our
29.Don’t get a black bag. Everyone has black bags and they all look alike. Don’t get a purple bag either. Purple is my color and you can’t have
it. I’m guessing red is not good either as someone sent out a memo about red bags. Take all the old destination stickers off your bag, including
tiny ones and anything with a barcode. Most all bags sent to the “wrong” destination were sent to the place the sticker said to send them. And
don’t tie a pink ribbon on your bag thinking it will get on the right bus. Ha ha ha! That’s a good one. You WATCH your bag get loaded on the right
30.Most everyone speaks a passable form of English. All verbs may be regular and all plurals made with an “s” (like cattles and sheeps), but you
will be able to understand everyone just fine. You may be asked if YOU speak English; we were several times. Our Egyptian tour guide, Yassar, talked
and looked like Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot.