Building an Itinerary
In a Nutshell
A process for building an itinerary, working from trip goals and themes to places, activities, and speakers
Months before departure you will be able to:
- Define a trip narrative and create a preliminary itinerary
- Contract with a tour company that will book hotels, arrange transportation, and set up visits to museums and sites
- Book most fee-charging speakers
But high caliber speakers who are public servants and don’t charge for speaking usually cannot commit to speak to your group until weeks or even days before your departure.
Creating a balanced itinerary
The operative word in itinerary planning is balance. Your goal is to achieve a balance of:
- Types of activities: lectures/site visits/physical activities
- Content: educational/fun
- Perspectives: right wing/left wing, religious/secular, Arab/Israeli/Palestinian,
You are only in Israel for a week so you won’t be able to include everything on your wish list. Try to avoid packing the itinerary to the point of content overload. Be sure to include free time for participants to explore and process on their own. Sometimes, less is more.
It helps to think of the educational aspects of the itinerary as a journey, building an overarching narrative with each time block, each destination, activity and speaker. Day to day, these experiences should create a trajectory, a journey of deeper understanding.
Group processing time
Small group processing sessions facilitated by trip leaders are critical, and time for them should be built-in to the itinerary from the beginning.
Participant feedback indicates that they really value this time to process in small groups, and wish they had more of it. Build time into the itinerary for processing early in the planning stages; if you do it ‘on the fly’ once you are in Israel, it simply won’t happen due to time constraints.
As you are planning your itinerary, think about key pressure points—visits that are likely to trigger an intense emotional reaction (like Yad Vashem or the West Bank)—and make sure that you build in time to process after these experiences.
Ideally, you want to hold at least one processing session per day. Some of these sessions might be short, others as long as an hour. Conduct the longer sessions in a place conducive to private, meaningful conversation in small groups (not the bus; hotels work well).
For tips on facilitating conversations, click here.
Mifgash [encounter] with Israeli peers
One of the most common regrets from trip participants is that they wish they had more time to spend with Israelis. Use your time in Israel to enable your classmates to spend genuine time with Israeli peers. Think about casual ways that the two groups can interact, like at a bar night or for a shared meal. Or bring in a group of five to ten Israeli students and have them lead small group, breakout discussions focusing on a topic in Israeli life.
If there are no Israelis on your leadership team, you should strongly consider inviting a few Israelis to join your trip. Having Israelis on the bus makes a huge difference and provides the personal perspective that many participants find to be especially meaningful.
If you decide to have Israelis join your group, make sure that they are formally introduced to participants and have an opportunity early on to tell their personal stories. This will help with group integration, and ensure that everyone is aware of who the Israelis are and what their role is on the trip.
If you don’t know where or how to find Israeli peers, Israel & Co. has relationships with the major universities in Israel and will be glad to help. They also offer funding for mifgash events.
Considerations for visiting the West Bank
If your itinerary includes a visit to the West Bank, it is essential to come prepared.
Entering the West Bank will feel like entering a foreign country without having your passport stamped. Keep in mind that your trip leaders are foreigners there. Your tour company has no autonomy there. Your Israeli tour bus will not be permitted to enter the West Bank.
Despite its geographic proximity, just ten minutes from East Jerusalem, the West Bank is a world apart. It has different rules, a different language, different culture, and different norms.
In addition, the West Bank is not as secure or reliable as Israel. The people who are running your trip, the tour bus you have been using up to then, and all the personal and municipal support you have in Israel will no longer be available to you.
So every visit to the West Bank must be very well planned. You are urged to:
- Hire a West Bank tour guide affiliated with a professional, on-ground West Bank tour provider
- Plan exactly the sites you will visit
- Stay alert throughout your visit
- Keep to your schedule and itinerary
- Make sure you have emergency phone numbers and a means of contact, should an emergency arise
- Research in advance, where you are going, the roads you are taking, and the people you will be meeting
- Plan where you are entering and leaving the West Bank, and know the rules and regulations of those particular checkpoints
- Request special permits in advance for Israelis in your group to enter the West Bank
- Make sure all the members in your group understand the security risk inherent in visiting the West Bank, and that the risk for Israelis is even greater
- Finish every day before dark and plan to return to Jerusalem for an overnight. You can always return the next day to complete your visit.
- If there is the risk of an escalating situation, be prepared to cancel the visit
Adding the details: Countdown to departure
Research the options and enter them as you lock in the details of where to go, what to do, and what speakers have invited. See the Resources section on this page for examples of final itineraries.
By three to four months before the trip:
- Hotel booked
- Tour guide selected
- Bus reserved (it’s critical to reserve a bus early if you need a 61-seat bus)
By three months before the trip, add to the itinerary:
- Time scheduled for each day
- Most venues, activities, restaurants, clubs, transit times set
- Names of all speakers who can be committed early; invitations issued
- Backup plans, mainly for speaker cancellations
By one month or less before the trip add the final details, including:
- All confirmed speakers
A word about hotels
Once you’ve decided where the trip will spend each overnight, you can have the tour company reserve rooms. The tour operator can recommend hotels to you but the decision of where the group will stay is up to you.
Some factors to consider in selecting a hotel:
- Price, and what it includes
- Amenities (be sure Wi-Fi is included)
TIP: Build some of your itinerary around the trip leaders’ personal connections to Israel. For example, visit the army base where one served, or have Shabbat dinner at the home of a friend or family.