Whoops, I've already signed up for a standard tour!
You can make any trip better, especially if you are paying for it. There is more to see and experience than you have time for. Ask yourself: "Who decided what is important to see and experience? And why?" If it is a free trip or a very reduced rate trip, those questions answer themselves. The financial donor has a bias and an agenda.
It is not unusual for pastors and active lay persons to be offered free (or almost free) trips to the Holy Land in exchange for recruiting others to travel with them later.
The price of a free ticket
The price of the ticket may be appealing (free) but the cost can actually be very high.
- The schedule is pre-planned and often unchangeable.
- Your guide may know little about Christianity, but you can seldom change the assignment.
- The choice of sights may neglect your particular interest in favor of "tourist sights."
- There will be little time for you to visit other Christians and hear their concerns and needs.
- Worship on Sunday is often precluded by all day trips on that day.
- The hotel may be isolated so you have no opportunity to see things on your own.
- Food served at the hotel is often "international bland" so you never eat authentic Middle Eastern food.
- The guide may "hi-jack" the group to shop where he or she gets a large kick-back.
- Information dispensed by the guide will reflect the sponsor's own biases and agenda. Studies have shown many instances where tour guides give out dubious, false or slanted information.
- Ask yourself if the trip and its commitment are really worth what you must accept.
Here are some things you can do
Even if you have signed up on a standard travel agent determined trip, there are a number of things you can do with the help of the travel agent. Go to Resources in Israel/Palestine for ideas.
(Remember that you are the one paying for the trip and lots of people speak English.):
- Insist on a Christian guide
- Invite a local church leader to speak to the group
- Visit with one of your denomination's representatives or volunteers working with organizations in Israel/Palestine
- Attend Sunday worship; stay for hospitality and discussion
- Visit a church-sponsored social service institution, school or development project
- Contact a group that specializes in alternatives (or authentic travel) in advance and let them help plan an alternative day or half-day.
In addition you can also:
- Visit a university and talk with students
- Hold a discussion with members of a human rights group
- Meet with a peace group for conversation
- Purchase your souvenirs in a "fair trade" shop that supports the local economy and not just the merchant and tour guides.
- Listen to the stories of Jewish settlers, Palestinian refugees, Muslims, Jews and Christians, people in inter-faith groups
If the tour guide or travel agent says your schedule is too crowded to do these things, make time for the whole group to:
- Return to your hotel a little later one evening or start the day earlier.
- If the meal schedule is inflexible, plan for dinner at a local restaurant with a local contact.
- Schedule a speaker over the lunch hour while you are eating.
- Schedule a special stop on the way from one place to another.
- Insist that Sunday morning is for worship, not for long trips.
- Make your shopping stops shorter or fewer.
If nothing else works, drop out for part of a day to follow your own personal arrangements. (and invite others to go with you.)
Contact the Middle East & Europe Office for ideas about what they recommend.