Best Travel Tips – Travelling to Israel

During the summer our family of five travelled across the ocean to Mr. L’s home country, Israel. This was our third family trip to this amazing country that is full of sea, sand and everything you need for a memorable experience.

In this first of a 3-part article series on the trip, I provide the Top 10 Family Friendly Places To Visit in Tel Aviv. 

Enjoy!

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Travelling with kids – an overview

Our first family overseas trip is becoming a distant memory as we immerse ourselves in the busy and humid days of an Ontario summer, it seemed like a good time to review our trip before other parts of life take over completely. The pros, the cons. The lessons and tips for other parents considering their first overseas trip with small children. A round-up of my suggested spots for families travelling to Tel Aviv, Israel. (This last one will be in a separate blog piece!)

Mr. L and I had a lot of discussion when the idea of this trip was brought up a year ago. We have family commitments in Israel and knew this would be an inevitable trip in order for our children to see their grandfather each year. There are also numerous cousins and friends whom we wanted to strengthen our connection. We chose this year, when our children were seven, five and two for a couple of reasons. 1) His father could no longer make the long flight to see us in Canada due to health reasons. 2) We hoped the older two would manage the flight well with the help of mini iPads, books and snacks leaving us to take turns dealing with our two year old.

The pros as we discussed would be many. Seeing the country where their father grew up. Experiencing a different culture. Learning more about their jewish heritage. Lots of sun and beach time. Meeting family members and cousins close in age to our children. Family time together. Deciding if this was going to be an annual trip for our family as we hoped but we would not know until we did it once.

The cons were more logistic in nature. Cost of travelling with five people. Accommodations for a family with three small children. Not knowing how any of the kids would react to a twelve + hour flight (taking line-ups for customs/security and baggage into consideration). Obvious safety concerns when traveling to a middle eastern country. The heat in Israel. Language barriers.

But, in the end the pros outweighed the cons. Not every family is ready or able to take a trip like this. The most important thing when planning an overseas family trip is to be realistic about the potential cons and plan for them as best as possible. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Know your children and take their personalities into account. We are fortunate to have three fairly outgoing and adaptable children who like to talk and learn new things. Well, two out of three if I am being honest.

We do have one child, Audrey, who is a little more of an introvert and takes longer to become comfortable in new situations. (Although once she is comfortable, she can hold her own in any situation.) She also does not deal well if her “equilibrium” is upset or has not in the past dealt well with being away from home. However, being only five, we were hoping this trip with our support, her being a bit older and having her older sister as a playmate, she could find her own enjoyment.  If you have shyer, more introverted children who do not do well with an upset in their routine, waiting until they are older may be wiser for a major trip. Starting with smaller trips may be a better option.

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Some general tips I learned on our first overseas trip:

1) Pack light. We were heading to a beach culture meaning casual wear and bathing suits. I overpacked (as usual) and did not take into account a grandfather who upon our arrival had purchased enough clothes for each child on our two-week stay.

2) Take a carry on per child and if they are old enough to pull a rolling suitcase. Let them.

Mr. L thought I was crazy but I will stick to my rule of a carry-on for each person. I have been victim to luggage being lost and was thankful I had packed that extra set of clothes in my carry-on. Each child had their own little rolling suitcase, brightly coloured with a change of clothes, bathing suit, favourite sleep item, books, iPad mini/or iPod touch and change of diapers for the toddler. It was more organized and I did not have to spend time digging for each item on one big carry-on.

3) Two year-olds still need an umbrella stroller.

We had not planned to take one as our little guy favours walking over being strapped down but a neighbour of ours (and a Mom) gave us one of their strollers and told me, “You’ll thank me.” I did when we got back. Jacob wanted to sit down at times and feel safe in the stroller at a busy airport or after a long day at the beach. It was also helpful to carry things when we were out.

4) Take aloe vera, sunscreen and all medications.

Tel Aviv is a modern city by all accounts. There are pharmacies and grocery stores. But unlike us, they have sun most of the year. Hot sun. I did not take aloe vera assuming we could find one in a pharmacy if need be. Israelis do not use aloe vera, they do not need to being brown most of the year. We finally did find a small tube tucked way back in a shelf after our first day at the beach where we all spent way too much time in the strong sun.

A rotovirus hit us on our second week. I had taken all the regulars. Advil, tylenol, Gravol, but for some reason did not anticipate tummy issues. There is not much to be done with a virus, but I wish I had taken more Advil so we did not need to hunt it down at the store to help with low fevers. If you have any natural remedies to help with tummy troubles, take it with you.

5) Do not spend your first day on a beach for the whole day. You will get sunburned, even when slathering sunscreen on.

In a climate like Israel, the sun is hot and strong. We knew that. We pulled the kids under umbrellas, chased them with hats and tubes of sunblock. Yet, we all got sunburnt. Wanting to feel the fresh sea air, we overdid it. Next time, half a day will suffice.

6) Flights. If you can afford first class. Get it. Since most of us cannot, we got the bulkhead seats. Extra leg room for all of us and bags the kids needed. It also meant our kids did not bother anyone in front of them.

7) Make a general outline of what you hope to see and do for your trip before you go, but be flexible.

You may want a day out of the sun. You may get sick. In our case we had family visits so fit those into our plans. We also planned a lot of down time for our first trip. Really, a walk to a nearby park to get ice cream was fun enough for our kids. Remember, you are travelling with small children. We still have a toddler who naps and after one day we tried to see if he could go without it. It was a disaster. Having to go back to the apartment for two-hour naps cut into our day, but it was nice downtime for everyone. I napped most days, a luxury I do not get at home.

8) Family time was really great but Mr. L and I scheduled some one-on-one time when we could. We were lucky to have family to babysit so we could sneak out to dinner alone a couple of times. But if you are without that luxury, ensure your accommodations have a patio/balcony somewhere where after all the kids are asleep (usually by 8 pm) the two of you can talk, drink a glass of wine and enjoy some quiet time on your own.

9) Let your kids be comfortable at their own pace. Tel Aviv is a busy and dense city. I loved it, but I could see it was a bit overwhelming for our kids. We made our outings in the less busier times or in short durations going out longer as the kids became more accostomed to city life. We went places early in the morning or after dinner. Saturday is unusually quiet in Tel Aviv as most of the businesses are shut down for the Sabbath. Not a great time to hit the beach as everyone is there, but a good time to see other sites.

10) Try to remember through tantrums, complaining and illness to watch your kids splash in the waves or dig in the sand. Enjoy how they charm the people you meet or family members and most importantly remember that this is only the first of many future family adventures. It can only get easier and better. (We hope!)

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As the sun sets in Tel Aviv.

Being the first day everyone seemed to be feeling better and after lounging poolside for most of a day, Mr. L and I leaped at the opportunity to sneak out for dinner on our own. My in-laws were kind enough to offer to babysit, so after showers and tucking them into bed with kisses on their sunburnt cheeks, I finally got to play dress-up with one of the few dresses we had bought on our shopping trip.

Mr. L and I chose a restaurant close by and within walking distance. Just in case we needed to make a quick escape home. After all, we were coming off all three kids not feeling well and it was the first time his father and his wife had looked after our kids. As we walked hand in hand we ventured through Nahlat Binyamin, a lovely pedestrian area full of textile shops where an Arts and Craft market sets-up twice a week.

Nahlat Binyamin

Nahlat Binyamin

Continuing on, we came upon, Tracklin, a romantic candlelit restaurant. We were seated and promptly greeted by a charming server who introduced us to a local Israeli wine. Sipping our glasses we placed our order and settled in. It was refreshing to be out on our own enjoying each other’s company, good food and wine. A plate of warm bread was placed before us and we nearly devoured it.

Tracklin Restaurant

Tracklin Restaurant

A delicious combination of Italian artichokes with goat cheese later and a melt-in-your-mouth slow-cooked ribs that was one of the specials of the night later we were feeling very full so we nearly passed on dessert. I am so glad we chose not to! On the dessert menu was a chocolate mousse, a dessert that is my kryptonite, so we decided to share it. Although in hearing about the dessert choice, I had inquired about a dessert I did not recognize, (Shocking but true!) called Mallibee.  Mallibee is a custard dessert that is garnished with fruit, fruit sauces, dates, nuts – pretty much any topping. Our kind server brought us one “to try” and we were delighted not only with the service, but the dessert. Mallibbee will be my new favorite dessert when eating out in Tel Aviv.  Later that week when telling Mr. L’s family about it, D. our host at one brunch, made this “little piece of heaven” for our last family get-together. We so much enjoyed it that I am currently trying to score the recipe. After a pleasant night out and feeling re-energized, we were ready to continue our family adventures in Tel Aviv.

Italian Artichokes Appetizer

Italian Artichokes Appetizer

Slow-cooked ribs

Slow-cooked ribs

Walks on the boardwalk after dinner one night, trips to Carmel market where Elizabeth took her cherished ten shekels she had been saving to buy a large cup of freshly squeezed orange juice and visits to the park we soon found ourselves in the last few days before our trip back to Canada.

Elizabeth loving the orange juice stand!

Elizabeth loving the orange juice stand!

Jacob on the boardwalk.

Jacob on the boardwalk.

Low-grade fevers prevented some of our pre-planned activities from happening, but we did manage to get out to the Arts and Crafts market. Another great place to spend a morning when travelling with kids (or solo!). But ensure to get there early! By eleven am the place is busy and hot! Amongst the jewellery stands, hand-glass blown vendors and dragging our kids away from the people making huge bubbles with bubble sticks, we managed to pick up a few gifts for loved ones back home. The kids also got to see a glass artist torching his pieces of glass to make unique necklace pendants or animal shapes. A must-see for any visitor to the market.

Arts and Craft Market

Arts and Craft Market

Stained glass art.

Stained glass art.

Our last few days were filled with family/friend visits where we lingered trying to get in our last piece of conversations and make plans for future trips. The kids were spoiled with treats and hugs from the warmest people I have had the pleasure to meet and we lamented that our visit had to end so soon.

Jacob with Israeli cousins.

Jacob with Israeli cousins.

Mr. L and I managed to get in one last dinner out. Dutifully researching via TripAdvisor, he had chosen a place that was again walking distance again from our apartment. Upon sharing his choice with the cousins one sunny afternoon lounging in the backyard looking upon a lemon tree, they chastised him for choosing a good, but too casual of a place for a date night with your wife. A phone call later from M. and we had scored a table at one of Tel Aviv’s top restaurants by the sea, Raphael.

Getting fancied up in my LBD, (another new purchase courtesy of my FIL), we hailed a taxi and walked down the steps into a modern, low-lit restaurant decorated in black and whites. In no rush and ordering one of our last plates of humus, I enjoyed a wrapped vine-leaf appetizer stuffed with fragrant rice and lamb followed by a light and refreshing dish of white fish. Deciding to go easier on the desserts, we opted for a gelato dessert and I ordered a pot of delicious mint tea that came in a stunning silver tea set. Walking down the boardwalk after dinner, we talked about our trip and plans for next year.

Raphael Restaurant, Tel Aviv

Raphael Restaurant, Tel Aviv

Tea Time

Tea Time

Our last day in Israel was spent, where else? At the beach. We relented and got the kids their heart’s desire, frozen ice cream treats from the guy shouting on the beach, and they devoured them in between eating snacks and ordering our last meal beach side.

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Audrey looking at the waves.

Jacob and I.

Jacob and I.

Elizabeth enjoying ice cream at the beach.

Elizabeth enjoying ice cream at the beach.

As we packed up the apartment, trying to stuff extra clothes and gifts into already full luggage, doling out Advil to still lingering low-grade fevers we dealt with the onset of tummy troubles that would follow us on the plane and home to Canada for a week. The kids were awesome going through line-up after line-up at Israeli security and enduring a twelve-hour flight.

We arrived home at YYZ (Toronto) just in time for Canada Day and are now straight into the first week of summer vacation.

One trip was over. The biggest trip this Mom with three kids has taken and we not only endured but I learned a lot about my kids and our family. Most importantly was that we can do it. We can travel, survive and have a good time. We will be planning our next family adventure soon.

Last sunset overlooking Tel Aviv.

Last sunset overlooking Tel Aviv.

In the heart of Tel Aviv lived a family…for awhile.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv, Israel

Downtown Tel Aviv is a compact city full of white cement buildings. Laundry hangs from rooftop lines or on patios and you quickly get used to hearing the clanging of pots through open windows as neighbours prepare dinner.  The nearby sea provides an occasional breeze during the heat of late June and is beautiful backdrop full of ever-changing shades of blue. The Kerem neighbourhood near the Carmel Market is busy as people hurry to buy flowers, wine or cheese from the local cheese stand and our family quickly became part of the ebb and flow of people walking around the neighbourhood. One morning the corner coffee shop barista started making my morning cappuccino as I sluggishly walked towards his shop and he cracked a long-awaited smile confirming, “One sugar? To go?” I knew then we were starting to feel at home in downtown Tel Aviv as I placed my ten shekels on the glass deli counter with a nod in exchange for a piping hot cup saying “Ken. Toda!” and made my way back to the apartment we had rented up the street.

Around the corner from our apartment is the Shuk (Carmel Market) and is a hub of activity from early in the morning until end of day. You can buy pretty much anything you need at the market and it is very convenient to be able to run out on a moments notice to pick up food or supplies. Trays of freshly baked chocolate croissants or burekas lay in tidy rows or various piles of fresh olives to taste to help you choose just the right one to take home are hard to resist amidst the fruit and vegetable stands. If you cannot wait until later to eat, there are falafel stands or fresh melon grilled right in front of you to appease hungry stomachs. The best tip for heading to the Carmel market is to go early before the crowds appear and you are swimming like fish upstream trying to pile your groceries into your cart or stroller. When travelling with kids it can be a bit overwhelming and hot for little ones so going early is a must. For older kids it can be an interesting experience once they realize they can dip into that bag from the baked goods stand and munch on fresh pita or know that the juice guy will toss them a slice of freshly cut orange as they squeeze a frothy concoction of apple and orange juice into a plastic cup. Elizabeth quickly got used to our daily morning stroll as the two of us joined the crowds to grab croissants still warm from the oven for breakfast, coffee for Mom and a glass of fresh juice for eight shekels, which she insisted on paying for herself. We would navigate around the forklifts delivering produce to the stands and motorcyclists heading to work carrying our groceries the short walk back to our apartment.

Baked goods at Carmel Market

Baked goods at Carmel Market

Fresh olives and eggs.

Fresh olives and eggs.

After one particular morning, we thought a reprieve at the nearby park was a must for our kids after a larger grocery day letting them munch on snacks as Mr. L quickly took our groceries back to the apartment. A huge benefit to having an apartment in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv is everything is five minutes away.

Park near our apartment.

Park near our apartment.

One evening we decided it was time to check out one of the other fabulous beaches near my in-laws. As much as I enjoyed the downtown Tel Aviv beach, it was a fabulous break to go to Tel Baruch Beach on the north side of the city. Reminding me of downtown Miami with palm trees and manicured lawns and streets lined with pristine apartment buildings, this particular area is popular with seniors and families.

The beach was quieter and very family oriented with a playground. Heading away from the lifeguard area to a quieter area on the other side of the cove, the water was warm and although a little deeper, the kids had a blast finally seeing sea shells to collect. The nearby restaurant, Blue, was relaxing with couches to lounge in for a casual dinner after our swim. There was a huge sand pit for the kids in the middle of the restaurant complete with cube shaped bean bag chairs and we enjoyed dinner as the kids ran in between the table and the sand pit. It was a lovely way to end the day.

Little man checking out another beach.

Little man checking out another beach.

Blue Restaurant, North Tel Aviv, Israel

Blue Restaurant, North Tel Aviv, Israel

Unfortunately, the tummy troubles hit again the next day and although we attempted a morning in Old Yafo and managed to explore the oldest stone staircases of Tel Aviv grabbing ice cream to cool off, we quickly headed home where I was put to bed for the rest of the day.

Climbing the steps in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Climbing the steps in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Entrance to main square in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

Entrance to main square in Yafo-Tel Aviv, Israel

The duration of the trip we spent changing plans as on again and off again low-grade fevers combined with rotovirus symptoms hit most of us. Unfortunately it did cast a bit of a shadow on the rest of our trip, but we managed to take things day by day and see how different family members felt. Dealing with illnesses, thankfully not serious, while travelling means you quickly learn to just enjoy each day or sometimes each hour. The times when the five of us could all go out together became quickly limited as Mr. L and I switched off being at home with one or two of the kids while the rest of the family went out, even if only for a stroll to the park.

More to come….

Visiting in Tel Aviv.

After a visit to Mr. L’s city where he grew up we were going to head to a mall to meet my father-in-law. However, dealing with traffic in Tel Aviv is a whole new experience and with Jacob getting fussy, we opted to take everyone home for a much needed rest from the heat. After all, we were not used to the constant beat of the sun on our backs or temperatures in the low thirties (Celsius).

We have also learned that travelling with three or more kids, including a toddler, meant that a break each afternoon was necessary. We had attempted to forgo naps and rest times on one of our first days and Jacob, still napping most days, was a disaster by five o’clock. We decided that perhaps sticking to a later afternoon nap so he could keep up with the later culture would work best.

So, forgoing a mall excursion we headed back to the apartment where we all rested or napped. Having no real dinner plans we threw caution to the wind, packed up the brood and headed down for dinner at the beach. Apparently, we were not the only family to think of this as the beach was packed with families, couples and kids celebrating their last day of school. Settling down under a couple of umbrellas and ordering a casual beach dinner, (quickly becoming the norm for our family), we let the kids loose into the sea. Watching all the other naked little boys running free and forgetting the diaper bag, we encouraged our little guy to be free as only a toddler can be. Our family munched on chicken strips and humus as we watched another beautiful sunset over Tel Aviv and all the spectacular colours that came with it. No words can describe the brilliant pinks and oranges that streamed across a clear sky or how the sun looked like a ball of fire as it quickly sunk below the horizon. Yet, another wonderful end to a day for this family with three or more kids in Israel.

 

Beach dinner
Beach dinner 
 
Jacob baring it all.

Jacob baring it all.

 

Sunset over Tel Aviv

Sunset over Tel Aviv

 

The next day we could not escape it. We had to visit the mall. One of the busiest days to go but we felt the kids needed a break from the sun and my in-laws kept pressuring to take us shopping. A hobby they love of which I abhor, dreading taking three small kids shopping, but apparently this mall (as with others in Israel) there are indoor playgrounds for the kids so it was a win-win situation. The kids (not being used to busy malls) were wide-eyed as we made our way to the food court where the playground was strategically placed. Without a backward glance, the three of them took off being familiar with the usual jungle gym of climbing structures, tubes and slides. Mr. L gave a wave and we were off.

Indoor playground at Israeli mall.

Indoor playground at Israeli mall.

 

Stores were crowded as my in-laws generously dragged me their preferred store to preferred story. Bypassing some of the ones I would have liked to go in but being a good guest I went with them, let them dress me up and pick out a few items. It was pointless to argue and it was very kind of them. At the end of it, I had scored a couple of cute dresses and pair of shoes. Not bad for an hour shopping trip.

After escaping the mall and dealing with traffic in Herzelyia, a feat upon itself, we finally made it home for naps. We had resolved to get everyone down for a good rest as we were meeting with family later for dinner at a cousin’s house and were expecting a late night. We also decided not to visit a mall in Israel again on a Friday or Saturday, both extremely busy days of the week as people finish work early and go out both nights. Israeli’s work very hard and play very hard. It is not uncommon for the normal Israeli to work very late hours Sunday through Thursday and then ensure they make the most of their two days off.

That being said, dinner at Mr. L’s cousin was a most enjoyable eye opener to Israeli hospitality. Without more than a casual phone call from Mr. L announcing our arrival, the family dropped any other plans to treat us to dinner to their home in Rishon LeZion, a suburb of Tel Aviv popular for families with small children. Their gorgeous apartment overlooked Rishon with a huge balcony complete with bouncy castle for all the kids. Language was not an issue for our kids and their Israeli cousins and typical shyness gave way to games of snakes and ladders and sneaking more treats from the cupboards. It was one of the most enjoyable family get-to-gethers we have been to. Family caught up, stories were exchanged and we all relaxed under the humid night as the continuous and delicious amounts of BBQ spread across the casual table.

Dinner with our Israeli family.

Dinner with our Israeli family.

The latest night our kids have ever experienced, it ended after more treats for the kids, warm hugs and kisses to all and promises to try to get together one more time before we left. It was a warm feeling to be so welcomed into a family’s home who I had met only once years before. It was also heart-warming to see our kids so cherished by our cousins that my little man threw us over for his Israeli family following them around all night and weeping upon leaving.

The sun went up the next morning yet our family slept, and slept. It was like recovering from a party. Being a Saturday the streets of Tel Aviv were surprisingly quiet. Mr. L told me because of the Shabbat, most stores were closed and the buses did not run. (Travel Tip: Buy any food or supplies on Friday before the stores close. Barely anything is open Saturday, including restaurants!) We finally made our way out of the apartment to head down to the beach with Mr. L warning us, the streets are quiet because everyone was at the beach. “Pshaw,” I remember saying, “it is only ten-thirty am, how busy can it be?”

Well, he was right. It was packed. My jaw dropped at the sheer amount of people setting up their own tables and umbrellas. Bringing down their coolers and inflatable pools, it was like a huge party where everyone was invited. We were lucky to get one of the last available chairs and umbrellas to rent and settled in. Israelis truly go to relax by the beach on their days off. Our usually lax way of watching our kids splash in the waves as we sat right at the shore gave way to being constantly vigilant about keeping an eye on all of them.

Busy Saturday at the beach in Tel Aviv.

Busy Saturday at the beach in Tel Aviv.

 

That was also the day tummy troubles visited our family. The girls complained of tummy aches and after lunch one started throwing up but had no other symptoms. After appearing fine, the younger girl went right to sleep for naptime and we had to pull her out of bed for another family visit that afternoon. Pleading with her to “buck up” until after the visit, we regretted not listening when she began throwing up on the way to another set of cousins for coffee. Feeling horrible but knowing it was our only chance to see this set of family, we endured the visit as our family tried to make us feel welcome even though two out of three of the kids were feeling terribly sick. We visited as long as politely possible and hustled our kiddies back to the car, plastic bags at the ready for any other inevitable sickness and got them all home and two of them into bed. Thankfully, the next day both girls seemed fine although the bug did hit Jacob one morning and knocked this mom on her back for a full day. A twelve-hour bug, unfortunate but not unexpected when traveling. A good rule of thumb when traveling with small children, 1) Take or know where you can purchase medicine for tummy troubles if outside of your home country. 2) Stock up on bottled water and keep everyone hydrated. I think that helped us get through this faster than others. 3) If your kids say they do not feel well, listen and postpone any set plans. You may need to make a get-away home. 4) Ensure you have lots of downtime in your schedule to re-schedule plans if illness strikes. Thank goodness for Imodium and nearby drug store!

More to come…