One of the facts about Israel I was surprised to hear was that it was very expensive and not the best place to go for budget travellers or backpackers. I never imagine Israel being overly cheap since it is not a poor country, but I didn’t expect people to believe it was expensive either. So imagine my surprise when I found it extremely affordable and budget friendly!
Was I doing things outside of the real Israeli experience? Was I missing out on something? I didn’t think I was: I’d seen Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; I swam in the Dead Sea; I hiked Masada and saw the sun rise over it; I was supposed to go hiking and four-wheeling in the Negev Desert had I not gotten injured early on…what was I missing that was so expensive?
In my humblest of opinions, this is just Norway all over again. The Youtube videos and articles I read were from people that may not have been looking in the same places we found. Or their idea of cheap was different than mine. But in my opinion, I think Israel is very budget friendly.
We stayed in Abraham Hostels in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We had breakfast there and a rooftop to hang out on with drinks from the bar, and a kitchen to cook our own food all included in the $22/night cost. We could get huge plates of shawarma or falafel with all the fixings for only about 20 shekels. And that plate could feed the both of us happily (or be two meals for the solo traveller).
The two most expensive things for us should be the obvious: one was a full day tour going to three different locations that included the entrance fees to said locations. The other was souvenirs and that one was my own fault.
Haggling isn’t something we do often in the US unless you’re at flea markets or car dealerships, but it is a way of life for a lot of sellers in certain countries. It’s not the easiest to do but it is necessary when you’re in the market in Old Town Jerusalem.
I have a hard time haggling. Probably because I don’t sell things for a living, I don’t always know what the value of items are unless it’s food or alcohol (and that dear friends is probably everything you need to know to know who I am as a person). However, Richie and I also suffer from Impulse Buyer Syndrome and that was our first mistake.
Don’t go into any store or area too eager. We got immensely distracted by some really cool looking knives and daggers. What we should have done was look at the products and left and come back later if we decided we wanted them. Or decided immediately how much we wanted to pay.
I’d read other articles about haggling tips such as saying someone else is selling the same item for a certain price, holding up something similar and saying how much you paid, dropping the offered price by half. I think my issue came from not really knowing the conversion rate as well as I should (it was about 4 shekels to the dollar and I’m so hopeless at math I can barely do that in my head).
Our biggest issue, however, was that we were not on the same page. If you are traveling with someone else, be they your partner, your parents, your friends, you guys are a team! Either decide beforehand what you want to pay or play off of each other. Think of this as a game of good cop, bad cop. One of you goes hard in your haggling, the other could suggest something a little bit nicer to the seller’s liking, but either way you’re getting that price down to something you are willing to pay. I cannot stress that phrase enough. When it comes to haggling, the fair price is the price you are willing to pay. Don’t let someone else say you got ripped off if you are happy paying what you paid. They are not you and they have different ideas on cost and value.
On a similar note, don’t argue in front of the merchant. If one of you decides you’re willing to pay a certain price but the other isn’t happy, let the unhappy person continue to drop the price. Let them take over that role and keep it going. The worst that can happen is the merchant will stop budging somewhere and you’ll have to come to some sort of agreement somewhere. But if your partner can get the price even lower, that should not be an issue. You’re getting the product for a price even lower than you wanted. Win win!
Lastly, if the price doesn’t work for you, walk away. Do it forcefully and without wiggle room. Same no and walk. Do not try to make the merchant tell you no because they want your business, they almost certainly will not turn you away. If you are not satisfied with the prices you’re getting, just say “Thanks, but no,” and walk away. There’s no shame in that. If you really want the item, you can get it. And if not there, then somewhere else. Do not let them intimidate you.
All in all, haggling is all about what you want to give. The money will help a small business owner of sorts and the local economy. If you’re happy, they’re happy. Go get it!
For me, my souvenirs from there were the most expensive and next time around, maybe I’ll get them for cheaper because I learned from this experience. This kind of bargaining takes a few hiccups to get right and there’s no shame in it. I was frustrated a little that day when I realized I probably paid too much, but I have memories, clothing, and a story to tell. When I buy my first car for a price I’m willing to pay, I’ll remember my experience in Jerusalem.