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Bikinis or Burkas? What to Pack for a Trip to Israel

Here’s a question hear a lot from friends who are traveling to Israel. What do I wear in Israel? What should I pack for Jerusalem? How much do I have to cover up?  Can I wear a bikini? Do I need to pack a burka?

Yes people ask me this.

I have traveled to Israel frequently in the last decade. I also traveled to and lived in Israel as a teenager. I have a ton of friends and family who call Israel home. At this point I feel pretty comfortable and confident about what to pack for travel to Israel. I’m happy to report that you really don’t need to worry about looking and feeling good when you travel to Israel. Yes you will get great photos, wearing your favorite things. You just might have to make a few minor adjustments for specific locations.

Here is my packing list and clothing rationale for travel to Israel. Not just clothes – you’ll find some suggestions for tech gear and conveniences as well.

Clothing “Rules” for What to Wear in Israel

Thou shalt not stress out too much….

First of all, you should know that Israel is a modern country and in many ways, many Israelis are far less prudish than Americans. Think European sensibilities. Short shorts, tank tops, and bikinis all have their place in Israel and definitely belong in your bag if this is what you feel most comfortable wearing, and you will be visiting beaches and touring more secular areas.

Thou shalt do unto others…

That said, there are many religious groups who make Israel their home and their standards for attire may be far more modest than yours.  When you pass through certain neighborhoods and tour religious establishments you will be on their turf, and dressing immodestly would be disrespectful, and possibly could get you booted from a tour.

This doesn’t mean you have to pack a burka.

Having been raised with Orthodox Jewish grandparents, I have internalized a standard for respectful female dress that I like to call “the rule of knees and elbows.” What this basically means is that as long as your flesh is completely covered to your elbows and to your knees, you should be fine in most areas. Men have a little more leeway but dudes… exercise good manners please. Swim shorts and t-shirts are not considered very respectful when touring churches and temples etc.

Women are not required to cover their head, but men may be asked to wear a head covering in some areas and these are usually provided, so not a big concern.

Essential Clothing Items to Pack for Israel Travel

  • Short sleeved or sleeveless dresses. Look for mid-calf to maxi length, unless you are planning to carry a cover up for use when needed. Sleeveless or short sleeved mid-calf dresses are extremely convenient as you can always throw a light cardigan or scarf over them as needed and you are good to go practically anywhere. Avoid low cut styles, styles with thigh high slits, and anything that is see-through or skin tight.
  • Lightweight wrap skirts or sarongs. These go on quickly and easily over a pair of shorts and come off just as easily when you don’t need them.
  • Thin cardigans, jackets and/or button up shirts that can be thrown on over a sleeveless top or dress.
  • Lightweight (but not too sheer) oversized scarves are your BFF! These can be worn as a shawl over bare shoulders/arms or as a makeshift skirt over a miniskirt or shorts. Scarves are also great for covering up when the sun is beating down and you want to avoid a sunburn.  Pro tip: Pack at least one scarf and plan to pick up more while you are there. Israel is one of my favorite places to shop for scarves and shawls. You will find a great assortment of inexpensive pashminas, cotton scarves and silk scarves at practically every market.
  • 3/4 length tees and longer length pedal pusher shorts/capris on warm days if you don’t want to be bothered with “costume changes.”
  • Tunic tops and leggings. Tunics can double as a pool cover up or mini dress in more urban areas and leggings are always comfortable for touring when you need to cover up more.

Pack and Wear The Best Shoes for Israel Travel and Touring

Having the right shoes for Israel is critical. You not only need shoes that are comfortable for walking all day, but shoes that are comfortable for walking on uneven terrain.

Think cobblestones and then think 2000+ year old stones that people have been walking on since the Romans did their daily shopping on some of the same old city streets.  I will tell you something surprising about these stones. They are uneven and they can be very slippery, even when they are dry.

Bottom line: Your shoes for touring in Israel should be sturdy and have good traction.

  • Good closed toed shoe choices include sneakers and hiking shoes.
  • Ballet flats are fine in urban settings but may not provide the support, traction or protection you want when you are walking around markets and ruins or exploring ancient old city areas.
  • Birkenstocks,  or similar “comfort” sandals originated here. If you prefer to wear sandals, opt for a pair with traction and support. Stay away from flip flops and thin soled strappy styles.

Israelis are pretty casual when it comes to footwear. It is not uncommon to see people out to dinner in “sensible” shoes. Dressy flats are fine in most cases. Prioritize comfort and save your super cute heels and strappy sandals for an evening out when you are absolutely sure you won’t have far to walk.

If you don’t pack the perfect shoes for your trip, you are in luck. Israel is the birthplace of some amazing shoes brands like Naot and home to dozens of independent artists and craftspeople. You can also find many European shoe brands here.

Israeli shoe stores are packed with wonderful shoes that you will be tempted to buy. I picked up the Naot sandals below in the USA, but they were a welcome addition to my wardrobe on this trip back to Jerusalem.

Extra Items to Pack for Israel Travel

  • A protective hat with a brim for touring areas like Masada and the Negev
  • A comfortable/lightweight cross-body bag with a zipper closure
  • Bike shorts or slip shorts for extra comfort underneath dresses.
  • Good sunglasses, particularly if you will visit Israel’s gorgeous coastlines and deserts
  • A swimsuit or two plus an extra “sacrificial” swimsuit (if you are going to the Dead Sea which is murder on spandex). Yes you can wear a bikini.
  • Watershoes for the Dead sea or Jordan River
  • Mosquito repellent wristbands  and/or bug repellant are a good idea if you will be touring up north or near the Galilee where mosquitoes can occasionally be pesky during warmer months.

Even More Items You May Wish to Pack for a Trip to Israel

  • A headlamp
  • Reusable market bags
  • Spare battery packs
  • A plug adapter with USB
  • Your favorite tea or other hot instant beverage from home
  • A waterproof phone case
  • A remote control device for taking photos
  • A Selfie stick and/or tripod

Got anything else to suggest? Leave me a comment.

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Taiss @TogetherInThailand

Sunday 5th of March 2017

Great tips! Thanks for this, very helpful :)

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