Planning your own trip or substantially modifying a standard trip does take advanced planning. Here are some steps to make it easier.
Gather a small group to think about issues:
(The following questions will help you plan your itinerary.)
- When do you want to go on the trip?
- Costwise: High season is spring, October and Christmas
- Weatherwise: It is very hot and dry in the summer (June through August). It is rainy and cold in Jerusalem and other hill country towns in the winter (December through March)
- How long will you stay?
- Ten days to two weeks is recommended although some groups may wish to stay longer. If the group only wants to stay one week, you might use a standard tour and make some additions such as speakers, church visits, and other experiences.
- How many persons do you want in the group?
- Fifteen is ideal and thirty is the maximum for good participation. Larger groups should be split into small groups.
- What are the basic reasons for your trip?
- study tour
- solidarity with Palestinians
- fact finding delegation
- pilgrimage group
- work camp
- future project funders
- people-to-people visit
- Bible study
- What places or sites do you especially want to include?
- How much of your time do you want to be sight-seeing as a group? How much time do you want to spend on visiting institutions or organizations? How much of your time do you want to spend in dialogue with local people? What about work camp projects?
- How strenuous do you want the trip?
- How much free time will you include? How many evening meetings do you want?
- What subjects or issues should be included?
- Middle Eastern Churches
- Jewish organizations and activities
- Christian organizations and activities
- Muslim organizations and activities
- inter-religious organizations and activities
- human rights
- environmental issues
- women's issues
- peace and justice concerns
- separation barrier (wall)
- health issues
- educational issues
- social services and NGOs (non-governmental organizations)
- development projects
- minority groups in Israel and Palestine
- work with persons who are disabled
- Palestinian refugees and refugee camps
- archeology (beyond visiting sites)
- Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land
- Israeli Arabs (Christians, Muslims and Druse)
- Israeli politics
- Palestinian politics
Sketch out an itinerary and begin work with travel agencies and contacts
Use the information gathered above to draw up a tentative itinerary but be general at this point. This is only the first itinerary and probably will change as you go along and even after you are in the country.
There are some travel guides listed on the section on books. Plan action experiences such as visiting a village or talking with refugees as well as listening to speakers and visiting sites. But be flexible since it is difficult to pin speakers down in that part of the world very far in advance.
Work with a primary contact in the country (for example, your denominational offices or a travel agent) so that there will be coordination. You will also need to pay attention to what days in the week people from various religious groups would be willing to meet you. (See Tips for Trips for information about holy days and holidays.)
As you set up your itinerary, keep in mind opportunities for reflection and for worship, both as a group and in the local churches. Include cultural events when possible. Try not to have too many appointments in one day. Sometimes you can include a speaker with supper at the hotel rather than after a meal when the group is tired.
Estimate Your Travel Costs
Even if your travel agent is providing you a basic price, you want to be sure you have covered such things as honoraria and donations and you want to be sure which meals are covered and when you will really need transportation or a guide. See section on Estimating Travel Costs.
Recruit people to go on the trip
Your own church is a natural place to start, as well as other nearby congregations or churches where you have contacts. Be clear as to how strenuous the trip will be, since this will not conform to the mass tourism approach. As the leader you will have to be the judge as to whether a person will be able to be a part of the group or not. If, in your judgment a person is not up to the trip physically, it is important to help them find another trip which would be possible. (This must be handled very carefully.) Be clear about the expectations and encourage the group to be flexible.
Set deadlines for signing up, and for payments. Give a receipt for each payment and start a short-term checking account (or let the church or other organization handle the finances). Some deposits will be made in advance to travel agencies, airlines, hotels, etc. Don't run the money through your personal account.
Plan pre-travel study
Plan pre-travel study for the group, including a bibliography, meetings, films, videos, speakers. Materials are available on this website. See Study Groups for some ideas and a three session pre-travel study. Have your group or individual members decide on some small gifts to bring for speakers and other resource persons. Often something representing your part of the country is most appropriate. Keep your group informed as plans progress and let them take part in decisions wherever possible. You want them to "own" the trip and not just be passive receivers.