Israel on a budget: an oxymoron? If you do your research and are willing to make a few small changes to your trip planning then visiting Israel on a budget is certainly possible.
- 1 How to Visit Israel on a Budget
- 2 Israel Budget:How Much Should I Allocate?
- 3 Israel Budget:A Handful of Cost Overviews
- 4 How to Travel Israel on a Budget
- 4.1 Couchsurf to Cut Costs
- 4.2 Browse for Low-Cost Accommodation Options in Israel
- 4.3 Make Smart Dining Decisions
- 4.4 Mind Your Alcohol
- 4.5 Be Mindful of Where You Change Money
- 4.6 Find Cheap Flights to Israel!
- 4.7 Go Off the Beaten Track
- 4.8 Take Free Guided Tours
- 4.9 Save Money on Transportation
- 4.10 Consider Renting a Car
- 4.11 Buy a Local Sim Card
- 5 Israel Budget Travel:A Conclusion
- 6 Israel Budget: Pin it For Later!
How to Visit Israel on a Budget
Let me preface though. If you were not aware, Israel is a pretty expensive travel destination. It’s startling expensive actually. Has prices that make you want to cry more than chopping an onion even.
Expensive is not just a subjective term here either. Haaretz estimated that the cost of travelling to Israel was just as high (if not higher than) visiting pricy European capitals such as London, Paris, and Moscow. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that you can implement into your trip to help you keep costs down.
I was quite naive when I booked my solo trip to Israel and although I had heard people mention that it was a little on the pricier side, I massively underestimated by how much. I would say that Israel prices even exceed London prices which I know is not what fellow budget savvy travellers want to hear but there are ways to reduce the cost of your budget which I’ve summarised below.
How Much Should I Allocate?
Honestly, the amount that you need to allocate to your Israel budget depends on just how much you are willing to rough it. In places like Southeast Asia, you can easily get away with travelling on $20 or less per day. In Israel, while that is possible, it’s going to involve finding a lot of free rides/accommodation and perhaps a little discomfort. I’ve provided a breakdown below.
Israel Budget for Extreme Budget Travellers – $20 per day
If you consider yourself as being an “extreme budget traveller” then you might think that Israel is not a feasible destination for you. Fortunately, though, Israelis are some of the friendliest people in the world!
Couchsurfing is a huge thing here and a great way to meet locals to hang out with, while alleviating your accommodation costs at the same time. Hitchhiking is one way to get around Israel on a budget, so too is renting a bicycle in the major cities like Tel Aviv and cycling everywhere. This spending allowance assumes you are going to be preparing your own meals and eating “no frills” things like boiled eggs, pitta and hummus, etc.
Israel Budget for Backpackers – $40 per day
The average cost of a hostel in Israel is about $15-$20 per night and upwards. Assuming that you opt to stay in a dorm at a backpacker’s hostel, get around by public transport and sheruts (shared cabs) and cook most of your own meals, you can assume an Israel budget of $40 per day.
Israel Budget for Affordable Comfort – $80-$100 per day
This Israel budget is for those who want to travel as affordably as possible without compromising on their comfort and privacy – I hear you! Basic rooms in hotels or airbnbs start from around $35-$40 per day. The amount of options available on the lower end of the spectrum are pretty limited so it’s advisable to book in advance if you can.
This budget still assumes that you cook most of your own meals, take public transport and explore independently.
A Handful of Cost Overviews
Before I go into detail on how to travel Israel on a budget, I will provide a short summary of the average prices of various common purchases and travel items in Israel to give you an idea of what things cost.
- Bed in Hostel Dormitory – $15-$20 per night
- Basic Single Room in Hotel/Airbnb – $40 per night
- Mid Range Hotel Room – $80 – $100 per night
- Bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (and vice versa) – $5 each way
- Falafel Pitta – $4
- Shawarma with a Drink and Fries – $10
- Lunch at Basic Restaurant – $15 – $20
- Pint of Beer – $10
- Average Cost of Entry to Museums – $15
- Average Cost of Entry to National Parks – $10
Ways to Reduce Costs
We’ve taken a look at cost considerations for your Israel budget, and how much you can expect to spend depending on your travel style, so let’s take a peek at how you can ensure that you travel Israel on a budget.
How to Travel Israel on a Budget
Couchsurf to Cut Costs
If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing yet,
where have you been then it’s definitely time to download the app. The concept of Couchsurfing is simply that you stay with locals for free.
Couchsurfing provides a great opportunity to make international friends while you travel and Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in particular, both have a very active Couchsurfing community.
Accommodation in Israel is expensive – even hostel beds can set you back over £20/$25 a night so opting to couch surf alleviates a lot of your expense. Not to mention, Israelis are incredibly friendly and fun!
Browse for Low-Cost Accommodation Options in Israel
If Couchsurfing isn’t your thing, I completely get that. Israel has recently started opening up to international travellers in a big way so there are a fair few hostels dotted around – it’s just that they may be a little more expensive compared to what you are used to!
I stayed at the Abraham Hostels in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem (there’s also one in Nazareth which is a converted mansion!) and I have to say that it was one of the most fun hostels I’ve ever stayed at! The hostels are huge, hold events daily and it’s like a whole community of travellers. A bit like the community in Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach” just without the Lord of the Flies-esque behaviour.
It is also worth noting that the Abraham hostels offer a volunteer program where you can spend 6+ weeks working at the hostel in exchange for accommodation so if you are travelling long term, this could be something to consider.
When I’m browsing hostels and hotels, I also always make sure that I pick ones that include breakfast too so that I don’t have that extra expense. That way, I can stuff myself silly in the morning and I probably won’t eat again until the evening (so what if I’ve given up luxuries like eating in exchange for travel. Who needs food anyway?)
Make Smart Dining Decisions
If you’ve travelled in the Middle East before, you’re probably rejoicing over the super tasty, flavourful foods you’re going to eat for cheap when you return and visit Israel right? Well, stop that right now!
Eating out at a restaurant in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem will set you back anywhere between 40-60 shekels (basic restaurant) and having a simple sandwich at a cafe or coffee shop can be anywhere between 25 and 40 shekels.
Fast food and street food in Israel isn’t cheap either in Israel and will cost you around the same price. I did, however, find that there are some falafel places where you can get a falafel pita for just 17 shekels (circa £3.60/ $5). I was actually eating all the time at this one place in Tel Aviv which caused the guy to ask “Are you vegetarian? All you eat is falafel pita!” (No sir just poor). Eating out a lot is a sure-fire way to quickly obliterate your Israel budget so it’s important to try and prepare your own food, or eat street food where you can.
I bought my food mostly from shuks (local food markets) and supermarkets. Typically, I’d buy a huge pot of hummus and eat that every day with pita bread and some cheap fruits and veggies (living the life!).
Mind Your Alcohol
Alcohol prices in Israel are expensive. Most bars in Tel Aviv were charging around £8/$11 for a pint of beer. £8 A PINT!
I actually don’t drink alcohol so this didn’t really affect me too much, but if you are partial to a tipple or two, be prepared to fork over a lot of your Israel budget on alcohol. Of course, it’s much cheaper to buy alcohol from local supermarkets, especially if you are willing to experiment with the questionable “budget” brands.
Be Mindful of Where You Change Money
Shekels are the local currency in Israel. One US dollar is approximately 3.45 shekels, though the rate obviously fluctuates throughout the year.
As your budget trip to Israel approaches, monitor the shekel exchange rate to see how it fares. Major economic and political events can cause the rate to change. You should purchase a small number of shekels prior to your departure so that you have Israeli currency ready for your trip.
Never exchange currency at hotels, airports, land borders or major transport hubs – the rate that they will give you will be terrible. The conversion rate is generally better once you arrive in Israel (though do keep in mind any additional transaction charges that your card provider may apply). You will find currency exchanges with competitive rates in the larger towns and villages (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, etc).
Find Cheap Flights to Israel!
One thing that makes up for the prices when you arrive in Israel is that getting to the country isn’t all that expensive. Several budget airlines fly into Ben Gurion airport and I found a pretty sweet deal through Kiwi that flew from London to Tel Aviv via Sofia for just £45!
Go Off the Beaten Track
Israel is pretty expensive as a whole, but you will find slightly lower prices once you escape the major cities. In Northern Israel and in smaller towns and settlements, I found prices to be slightly lower.
If you decide to travel to Palestine (you should!), you will find that prices are substantially cheaper than in the major cities. In the West Bank, you can get a sandwich or a falafel pita for 10 shekels for example, as opposed to the 20 + you would typically pay in the major Israel cities. (Obviously, there is a lot more to Palestine than just cheap sandwiches!)
Take Free Guided Tours
Tours can be costly and as a rule of thumb, I only ever really use them if I am visiting an area that is difficult to get to as a solo traveller. I personally prefer the independence to wander around by myself and I would assure you that Israel is a pretty safe and liberal country for travelling alone.
That said, sometimes it’s nice to pop along to a tour and to meet new people or hear more details about the local history. New Sandeman’s Tours offer free walking tours of Jerusalem’s Old City and Jaffa that depart daily. It should be noted that you are expected to tip on these tours but the amount is at your discretion.
For organised day trips, Abraham Tours and Get Your Guide both have an excellent reputation. I loved GYG’s Masada sunrise tour. A trip of this kind can cost you anywhere between £50-£150 pounds, or $70 – $200.
Save Money on Transportation
Transportation in Israel can also be pricey. You need to be aware that “shabbat” aka Israel’s Jewish holy day has a major impact on transportation and business schedules. From Friday to around midday on Saturday, public transportation stops running therefore it is important to take this into consideration when planning your itinerary and your journeys around Israel!
Getting To/From the Airport
From Ben Gurion International to Tel Aviv Central Railway station, the cheapest and easiest way to get into the city (and vice versa back to the airport) is via an affordable train service that costs 13 shekels (aka £2.80 or $3.80) for a one-way ride. Bus number 485 runs from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem and costs around £3.50/$4.50 each way. There are other options to getting to and from each city but here I have highlighted the cheapest.
When I’m in a city, I personally choose to walk everywhere so that I can save on costs, stay fit, and discover hidden gems along the way. In Tel Aviv there are also tons of bicycle rental places dotted around.
Cabs are quite expensive in Israel. Taking one from one side of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem to the other can set you back between $20-$30 so I would really advise that you try not to use this option unless you really find yourself lost and in a mess, lest you want to obliterate your Israel budget.
Israel also has “sheruts” which are essentially shared taxis. The drivers follow a set route around cities or between them. Once you flag the driver down he will stop for you provided there is room in the car. Sheruts do run between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but they operate on a very limited schedule and so it is sometimes more convenient to get a bus or take the light rail.
Trains & Buses
Trains and buses in Israel are modern, clean and efficient and some of them even have wifi installed. You can check the latest train prices, routes and schedules here and the details of the buses here.
Other Transport Options in Israel
Abraham Hostels have a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs around Israel as well as a shuttle that runs several times a day between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and vice versa, it’s 25 shekels or £5.30/$7. The hop on hop off bus stops at various cities and towns around Israel. Notably, it includes Caeserea, Acre, Beit She’an (Jordan River Crossing), Safed, Tiberius, and Nazareth. Since it can be quite awkward to get to some of these places independently (especially the Jordan crossing), this is a pretty useful transport link to know about.
Consider Renting a Car
Renting a car in Israel is fairly reasonably priced. You can expect to pay approximately 80 shekels ($22) per day for a rental. If there are several of you, or you plan on venturing out to some of the more “off the beaten path” places like Masada, Ein Gedi, Nahal Katlav, etc, renting a car will be more economical than paying for tours or purchasing several transport tickets.
Many reputable rental companies operate from within Israel. Roads here are in very good condition and driving in Israel is not as daunting as it perhaps sounds!
Europcar, Sixt, Auto Shay, TIR, and Hertz all offer rentals from Tel Aviv. Consider collecting your rental after you have done exploring Tel Aviv. You don’t need a car here, and can explore on foot to save some money. Not to mention, finding parking in congested Tel Aviv is a nightmare!
Buy a Local Sim Card
Forgetting to turn off data roaming and needing to make calls while you travel is a sure-fire way to rack up unnecessary additional extras during your trip. Buy a local sim card when you arrive in Israel so that you will always be connected.
Israel Budget Travel:
If you couch surf, walk everywhere, only participate in free tours and activities and eat a mixture of cheap street food/falafel takeaways and self-prepared supermarket dishes, you can definitely manage to travel to Israel on a budget of less than $20 a day.
If you don’t want to couch surf and you would prefer to stay in a hostel, opt for one with breakfast included to save a little extra. You can still manage to make your trip cheap and affordable and can travel Israel for less than $40 a day.