Traveling to the Holy Land: What to Expect in Israel & Egypt
Over my years in the travel industry, I’ve learned how to deal with expectations. From day one in the office, I’ve heard my boss chant a mantra of managing expectations (see, Michael? I do listen). We don’t want anyone disappointed because they’re anticipating something entirely different from what they will find on their vacations.
This is a doctrine that’s ingrained in all good agents. I remember how Cassie, my friend and fellow agent, sat me down in Africa, right after I had a panic attack over a seven-foot-wide spider on the ceiling (maybe it was a little smaller than that), looked me in the eye and said, very slowly, “What did you expect before you came here? That there wouldn’t be insects?! You. Are. In. Africa.”
And that’s all it took. I just needed someone to tell me what to expect. The next time I saw a heinously large bug in my room, I was somewhat less terrified. Somewhat.
Any time I travel somewhere, I’m looking at the experience through my clients’ eyes: what should they expect to see, taste, touch, hear, and feel? This trip was no exception, but it was much more difficult to put in a nutshell than, say, a relaxing vacation to the Caribbean.
For me, it has genuinely been the most educational and eye opening travel experience I’ve ever had. So much so that it’s difficult for me to find a starting point, so maybe it’s best to start with what you shouldn’t expect.
You shouldn’t expect to be moved by everything you see. You might be impacted but that feeling does not always come right away, if at all. I imagined myself crying when I kissed the fourteen-pointed star marking Jesus’ birth. I expected to rise a new creation from being baptized in the Jordan River (which I didn’t even do…). I wanted to feel some sort of great emotional connection to every religious site.
You know what? I didn’t. Just because you are looking upon a place where something great happened doesn’t necessarily mean something great will happen to you in that moment.
Somehow, I feel more when looking back at the memories than when I was actually taking them in. I thought this might just be my way of processing all that we’ve seen, but my family is in agreement. A trip of this nature overwhelms all senses and emotions – just give it a while to sink in and it will, eventually.
You shouldn’t expect for your mind not to change. I don’t mean your beliefs or your morals. I mean that your opinion of the world will be in constant movement while traveling here. Don’t make rash assumptions of the country or the culture early on – take your time. Hussan, one of our guides in Egypt, spoke about the way that he raises his own children. His goal is to make them so rooted in their own beliefs that they will hear of, learn about, and respect the beliefs of others, but that in their search for knowledge, their core values will not be changed. Don’t let your beliefs be affected, but open your mind enough that your opinion of others might be altered for the better.
After my time in Israel, I had an entire blog written out about the negative effects of the interaction of the three major religions in this part of the world. From what I saw, especially in the Old City, I was convinced I knew all there was to know about these things, and it was not a pretty review.
Had we not traveled into Egypt and witnessed a perfectly peaceful lifestyle, I would’ve posted that blog and I would’ve regretted my ignorance.
I do believe, after seeing what Israel is going through, that the support of America is crucial to their survival. I do believe that there is an enemy greater than what we’ve been told about on the news, that it is by no means a small group of radicals. However, I do not believe that such a group is a reflection of an entire religion.
I think it’s important to see things from all sides and we were fortunate enough to do just that by visiting both Israel & Egypt. Having guides from faiths outside of my own did not change my personal beliefs, but it did provide me with a much more well-rounded viewpoint of the world.
You shouldn’t expect answers to all of your questions. There is good and bad everywhere. We want so much for it to be black and white because that’s easier to process, but it’s not. There will always be a gray area.
After all that I’ve seen, my mind is jumbled with facts and ideologies and thoughts, more than I know what to do with. I probably have more questions upon returning than I did going, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
On our way to visit the House of Caiaphas in Jerusalem, a cathedral built upon the pit that Jesus was thrown into, Rami told us about the heart attack he suffered from several years ago. He had to be brought back to life with seven electric shocks. Naturally, it was a topic that hit close to home with Nan, who suffered from a heart attack that left her near-death just five months ago.
While we were climbing down into the pit, looking up through the hole in the ceiling, I overheard Nan’s conversation with Rami:
“Does he feel more real to you now?” she asked.
He paused, considering.
“No?” Nan questioned in his lack of response.
“The answer is not no. But sometimes you have questions and no answers. And maybe it is good you have no answers.”
I love that. Sometimes we have no answers. We’re not always meant to come away from an experience like this with all of our thoughts tucked neatly into a box with a ribbon tied on top.
It will always be like a jigsaw puzzle that we work toward finishing. Over time, we’ll find a fit for some of the pieces, slowly completing the bigger picture. We just have to build on it, take the jumbled thoughts and form our own beliefs.
Let yourself be challenged. In the end, that’s what strengthens us.
You shouldn’t expect your experience to be the same as mine. We each have our own reasons for visiting this part of the world. Whether it comes from a need to see where our religious doctrines were born or from the desire to explore the world or from a combination of the two, like my own, you might eventually find your way to the Holy Land. When you are here, you will be impacted and changed in ways that are different from mine.
Before traveling here, we had spoken with preachers, deacons, and even a good friend in the media who had taken his own trip with 30 pastors. Their experiences were all very different, but we began our trip thinking that we would have encounters similar to theirs. When we did not, we wondered what we were missing.
The thing is, we weren’t missing anything. Although it was hard to recognize at the time, we were undergoing our own incredible journeys. A trip of this nature is highly personal, so don’t assume that you’ll be refined or challenged in the same way that I was. Travel shapes us all differently, which is what’s so beautiful about a trip to the Holy Land.
For me, the greatest moments on this trip came from the company I kept. Watching my family laugh as they rode camels in front of the pyramids, tear up as they wrote down their prayers to tuck into the Western Wall, and smile along the entire way of this once in a lifetime journey was enough for me to walk away a better, happier person than when I first packed my bags. I can only hope the same for anyone else traveling here.
What I’m Listening to Today:
Hold your own,
Know your name,
And go your own way –
And everything will be fine.
– Jason Mraz, “Details in the Fabric”