Travelling alone in Palestine

Travelling alone in Palestine: Hopeful visitors to Palestine often find the prospect of solo travel to be a daunting one. Visas, transport, accommodation, and the infamy of Israeli security and checkpointing may seem unsurmountable. But rest assured, like many things in Palestine, these are no more difficult in Palestine than any other country. A variety of efficient transportation services can be found all around the West Bank, and the infamously rigorous security is often a breeze for internationals.

Whether an experienced traveller or a novice, navigating Palestine is a painless and convenient experience. Geographically, Palestine is a very small country. Visitors will never find themselves facing the sort of daunting train trips or long bus rides one might find in Europe or America.  Rather, Palestine is serviced a network of local and commercial taxi services. These bright yellow taxis can often be seen darting around the tight streets of Hebron and flying down the freeways towards Jerusalem. These smaller taxis can be hired for private trips or be shared with locals at a lower cost. They are best suited for local trips. Trips around Hebron or Bethlehem can cost only a few Shekels. Visitors simply have to hail the taxi and give them the destination like they would in any other country, or even at home. Most of the drivers speak a bit of English; enough to help you get to the right destination and to exchange some conversation. Palestinian taxi drivers are always excited to speak with visitors.

While these smaller cabs will service inter-city and certainly inter-town routes, they are not always the best or cheapest option for these longer trips. Long trips (by Palestinian standards – such as Jerusalem to Hebron) can become costly. And while a friendly taxi driver would be all to happy to take you alone for a comparatively larger fee, or with some locals for a slight reduction, the larger shared taxis are the most cost-effective option.

Shared taxis can be found around Palestine with almost as much frequency as their smaller, nibbler counterparts. Shared taxis are larger, bright yellow mini-van taxi’s that can be found stationed outside highly populated areas, tourist areas, and bus stations. They can be heard shouting al-Khaleel (Hebron), al-Quds (Jerusalem), or Bethlehem. These taxis will cover the larger, inter-city routes for only a few shekels. Simply board the correct taxi, pay the small fee, and wait for the taxi to fill. Once there are enough passengers, the taxi will depart.

While taxis are fast, nimble, and service almost anywhere in Palestine, more traditional bus transport can be found departing from the city centres of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and many of Palestine’s larger cities. Arriving in Hebron, one might choose to cover some of (but unfortunately not the whole distance) in a bus. This is perfectly fine and still quite competitively priced. Buses will often be listed in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, if departing from Jerusalem or any of the tourist centric areas. To get to Hebron, one can ride the bus to Bethlehem, depart, and take a taxi/shared taxi the rest of the way to Hebron.

But what about security in Palestine and Israel?

Checkpoints built and manned by the Israeli Defence Forces can be found all over Palestine, often outside settlements, some Palestinian villages, and heavy transit points or places of earlier conflicts. To many Palestinians, these checkpoints are a dire and impenetrable blockade. They heavily restrict their ability to move around Palestine. For an international, on the other hand, these checkpoints are relatively easy to navigate. Often internationals will be waved through without any issue. The forces that man the checkpoints are used to tourists. At most, internationals may be stopped and asked for their passport. They might be asked what their reason for the visit is – especially in Hebron which is a less common tourist destination for most internationals. This is, though, the worst you will face as long as you follow common sense. Taking photos or being overly vocal will draw unnecessary attention. Remaining calm and truthful will make the whole process, as an international, a breeze.

Anywhere in Palestine, you can be guaranteed to find friendly, helpful locals. After travel and security, many solo travelers might find the prospect of being alone in a foreign country, with a foreign language, to be equally daunting. Where are the best places to eat? Where is the market? Would you like to talk? These are all questions any Palestinian will be happy to answer. Many Palestinians know a basic conversational level of English or will know someone close by who does. Many will even bail internationals up in the street to simply welcome them to Palestine. Prospective travelers will quickly find that people of Palestine are very friendly and talkative. Internationals will never find themselves at a loss for conversation and socialization or helpfulness.

Potential visitors to Palestine should be rest assured that whether traveling in a group or by themselves, traveling the territories is quick and easy.