Coping/patience advice for someone going on a large synagogue tour to Israel.
November 29, 2007 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Coping/patience advice for someone going on a large synagogue tour to Israel.

(Please note: I'm NOT looking for advice on what to see in Israel. This has all been pre-planned. Thanks.)

Background info: This is a 12-day tour with 39 people plus two (very nice, but likely to be very busy) Reform Jewish rabbis. As I understand it, we'll also have a dedicated tour guide and a bus driver. The tour is oriented towards Reform Jewish first-time Israel visitors and the itinerary is pretty varied, but packed. I'm the adult daughter of one of the couples that planned the trip; my parents are VERY well-known in the congregation and most people on the tour either don't know who I am (I lived elsewhere for ten years), or know me as the daughter of one of my parents. We'll be staying in 3 hotels over the tour and I'll have a single room. I won't have any friends or relatives on the trip.

My main concern is: I'm an introvert. I get stressed out when I'm with people all the time, especially when I'm not in charge of my time, and this trip is rather tightly scheduled. We'll all travel together at all times and most meals will be together. I've never been on a tour like this before. I envision a lot of standing/sitting around waiting for the inevitable little old couple who is ten minutes late getting where they're supposed to be. There are also a lot of first-time-outside-the-US travelers on this trip (I'm not one of them), and a lot of older folks, so I envision a lot of people complaining/whining or being easily confused and asking questions repeatedly, things that really irritate me.

There is a plan to shift people around on the bus so everyone gets to sit with everyone else and people don't "clump up" or hog the front seats. I am okay with this. I don't mind talking to a different person on every ride. And I'm sure I will make friends, but...

My favorite way to travel is alone, with no schedule and lots of wandering/walking. Yes, I'm aware that there'll be none of that on this trip! We've been advised not to go off alone during our small amount of free time. I am going to try to circumvent this advice whenever possible; I'll have a cell phone and good maps, and I'm savvy about personal safety.

In short: I'm worried I'll have an awful time, getting so irritated by the other travelers that I can't enjoy the amazing sights/history/food/etc.

Anyone been in this situation before (an introvert's first time on a large tour)? I am really not an unpleasant or easily overwhelmed person; if this were a weekend trip I wouldn't be concerned in the least. But 12 days worries me. And travel is always stressful anyway. Any ideas?
posted by gillyflower to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Read a lot. You can always escape into a book while you're there, and if you read a lot about the places you're going before you get there then you can chat with people about the little facts you know. This will keep the conversation in good territory.

Take notes about the "funny" ways people act around you so that you can share the ridiculousness of it all with your friends when you get home.
posted by Packy_1962 at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Got several books for that purpose already. But thanks for reminding me. I'll also have an iPod, but won't be listening to it on bus rides because the tour guide will be lecturing then.
posted by gillyflower at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2007

Xanax, ipod, books or books on tape, and the ability to end a conversation politely and quickly will all be your allies. It might seem a little crude to some of your older co-travellers, but you can always slip on a pair headphones when you need a break.
posted by mr. remy at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2007

i'm the same way. i've found that the thing to do is just go with it. if you go into it assuming it will be horrible and strategizing all the time to find respite, you probably won't have a very good time. it sounds kind of silly, but attitude does make a huge difference.

also, get lots of sleep, stay hydrated, and if all else fails, trail behind the group to take pictures.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2007

Writing is an even more effective way of preventing conversations than reading. A lot of people would find it rude of you to prefer reading a book to talking to them. Reading is mostly just a way to pass the time, whereas when you're writing it looks like you're working on something important. It also has the added effect of making you seem smarter and more creative.

If you don't normally write, keeping a journal of your trip might be a good way to remember it, and like you said you are probably going to have plenty of down time.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2007

You know, statistically at least a couple of your traveling companions are really interesting people. I have found the package tour to be pretty good for keeping the easily-confused comfortable and happy, you may find that they are more open to the experience than you expect. Stay open to the possibilities yourself, and maybe even keep some of that writing time available to interview the people around you. You might be surprised at the stories you'll come back with.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:49 AM on November 29, 2007

As a fellow introvert, I feel you angst. I dread going on long trips with family or to see family.

However when it comes time for the trip, it never is as bad as I expect it to be.

Perhaps (and I hope!) it will be the same for you.

Have a great trip!
posted by bitteroldman at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2007

I am going to try to circumvent this advice whenever possible; I'll have a cell phone and good maps, and I'm savvy about personal safety.

Just do it. Go wandering. The rabbis aren't cops and this tour isn't going on your permanent record. If you check in by cell phone and show up when you say you will, you'll have a better time, earn their respect, and teach them a thing or two about respecting others' autonomy.

Tell them you just don't want to go to the [whatever] today and wave goodby to the bus when it leaves the hotel. What are they going to do, drag you out of the hotel?

I'm glad you have your own room.

You know, organized religion is all about conformity and "The Group."

Also, 2nding what Lyn Never said.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Heh, I recently had a similar experience with a smallish family reunion aboard a cruise ship. I love my family very much and I realize I'm probably nuts to be complaining about going on a cruise, but like you I'm VERY much an introverted, independent traveler who likes nothing better than wandering and exploring new places with no schedule to mind nor people to be responsible for or accountable to ... by the fourth hour I was onboard that ship I think I'd already paced every single level several times over and was going a little nuts at being so "trapped." The three things that helped me the most were:

1) Writing, like burnmp3s said. Especially at first as I was trying to acclimate, I kept a scrap piece of paper and a pen in my pocket at all times and when I started getting irritated or antsy I'd take it out and jot stuff down. It particularly helped me to think of writing as a way to keep track of the things I wanted to tell my best friends about when I returned - not that I actually DID burden them with ALL the things I'd written down but imagining I was talking to a caring friend made me feel more comfortable about being honest with feelings of frustration/unhappiness, and (more importantly) prompted me to keep an eye out for things that were -funny- - as Packy noted, looking at things as potential funny "material" rather than stick-a-fork-in-your-eye-grade irritations can help a lot.

2) It also helped me to keep track of what day we were on (Day 1, Day 2, etc) and how much longer we had to go - not in terms of "oh boy, only one more day to go!" but rather just to keep things in perspective. A week, or two weeks, truly ISN'T that long and it truly WON'T be forever before you're back in your own life again. Maybe try to think of the things you'd be doing normally, if you weren't on the trip - there were a few times that worked for me, when I could say, hey, normally I'd be in an endless meeting right now; sitting here with my family, drink in hand and listening to them 'discuss' whether Baskin Robins or Cold Stone makes bettter ice cream isn't all that bad ...

3) The second day out I drank. A lot. Way too much. Spent the entire evening out cold in my cabin with a massively swollen bloody nose after falling flat onto my face. Umm ... I don't recommend this approach (in Israel OR on a cruise ship!), but I put it here to point out that some "coping" techniques are more destructive than helpful even if they DO feel really good for a while ;) Please don't go taking unnecessary chances in your compulsion to get away on your own during those few brief moments of personal time you get!

FWIW, once I managed to chill out and get into the right mindset (and, um, regain consciousness), I actually had a really nice time and even managed to learn things about some of my relatives that I'd never known before. Even if I'm not exactly clamoring for another cruise any time soon, I'm really glad I went on this one. Hopefully you'll feel the same way by the time you return - just hang in there, focus on the positives, and provide yourself a mental "out" when you need it, be it writing or reading or pretending to sleep or whatever. You'll be okay =)
posted by zeph at 11:13 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

In regards to time, here will be a constant "push" by some to be early for departures, meals, and all other group activities, and others will constantly "drag," more than they would otherwise, in response to pushing. Both groups will be minorities, but both are likely to be vocal, or have vocal spokespersons, and both groups are likely to try to solicit support from the pleasant majority constantly. Together, these groups will comprise maybe 9 of your 39. The other 30 will be ready to kill all of the 9 by day 5, and are only waiting on you to suggest that a mutual pact to keep silent about the details of their demise is all that is required to get away with it.

Seriously, people are likely to ruin whole days, over 5 minutes in the morning, because for some people, a 7:30 a.m. departure means the wheels must be rolling at 7:29, and others think any motion before 7:35 is evidence of barbarism. Shower regularly, wear 3x as much deodorant as you would at home (Israeli tour buses can be hot, even in December/January), and cultivate the appearance of napping easily. Nodding out is acceptable on bus tours, and it's maybe 10x as worthwhile as the bus tour patter, generally.

Also, practice deep breathing. Patterned breathing is a physiologically effective means of reducing stress, and cultivating a peaceful mind, that you can do in any situation. And, it is one that becomes more effective with practice and use, so that, the more you need it, and use it, the better it works!
posted by paulsc at 11:18 AM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Please don't go taking unnecessary chances in your compulsion to get away on your own during those few brief moments of personal time you get!

Um, just want to clarify that by that comment I certainly don't mean "don't go exploring on your own," just that it might be a good idea to be aware of it if you (like me) tend to let your irritation build up so much that it compels you to be either more distracted than you should while you're out and about, or to simply be less careful overall just because, by god, you're sick and tired of feeling utterly trapped and now that you're on your own ain't nobody or nothing gonna keep you from going exactly where you want come hell or high water. Have fun but be safe.

Also, I apparently really like run-on sentences. Punctuation is for sissies!
posted by zeph at 11:22 AM on November 29, 2007

Fake explosive diarrhea and ditch the group from the get-go. Explore the country for ten days. Rejoin them in perfect health just in time to leave!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:46 AM on November 29, 2007

I'm going to disagree with suggestions to leave the group to explore Israel on your own, gillyflower. Although Israel is comparatively safe for American tourists, wandering off by yourself to nurture your introspective side would be very worrisome for the tour leaders, for good reason. Even in the central parts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in the day time, there are still a lot of ways for a tourist to come to grief. An American tourist is easily recognized, and when alone, presents an attractive target for petty thieves, con artists and pickpockets, to say nothing of those with more sinister motivations.

If you do get a free afternoon or morning, don't be afraid to explore, but do so in the company of others, and with a clear plan and time of return, that the group leaders know about in advance.
posted by paulsc at 12:07 PM on November 29, 2007

Make sure you find some time each day to be alone, by yourself, and de-stress.

Definitely bring your iPod on the bus, the tour guide will not be talking the entire time. Close your eyes, place your thumbs and first finger in a circle and tell people you are meditating.

Can you draw at all? Sketching is another good activity that lets you relate to your surroundings without having to be sociable. You don't have to be very good - most people are very impressed by anything better than a cartoon. (I'm pretty mediocre, just took a six week "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" class years ago but got lots of compliments from family on my sort-of OK drawings.
posted by metahawk at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2007

Larry Hoffman's book Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide would be perfect for this sort of thing. Not only is it written with the independent spiritual traveler in mind (hopefully the second applies to you, if not the first), but it also incorporates some good journaling exercises. Concentrating on those exercises would have the double benefit of heightening what you'd get out of the trip, and showing the kvetchy-and-wrinklies that you're not interested in talking.

Here's a link to the book:

Hope to hear about the trip when you get back!
posted by AngerBoy at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2007

I don't think Israel is any more dangerous for an American tourist than any other country where they don't speak the language. Granted, lots of people wouldn't step foot in such a place w/o a tour group, but plenty of tourists go all around Europe with English and just a bit of French/Spanish, whatever. Many many people in Israel, especially younger ones, speak English.

I've never been on a long organized tour, but though I'm basically an extrovert, I'm also a bit of a control freak and get really really annoyed at not being in control of my own schedule, and even more if others aren't respecting *the* schedule, so I can sympathize with that. I've found that in situations where I have absolutely no control, to get by without constant irritation I need to completely let go of any expectations or plans and think of myself as just being along for the ride... and *always* having something to do for those times when you have to wait around.

That said, there are pluses. A lot of the really cool stuff in Israel isn't obvious but becomes clear when you have a good tour guide who can share the stories and history and make it feel alive. Before you ditch, see if the tour guide is good - some are great. A good tour guide will also be happy to help you figure out when and where would be good to head out for some alone time (both in terms of safety, but also in terms of interest, timing, and expense - you've probably already paid for a bunch of 'entrances' as part of the package that you could hopefully take advantage of).

But if the tour guide isn't good, or you've just had enough, you're not stuck. You're a free adult, and Israel is a tiny country so it wouldn't be hard at all to meet up with the tour somewhere else, later. If you like the beach/desert, give yourself some extra time in Eilat, and so on.

I hope it will be really fun! And it's really not a long time, and it's some extra time with your parents. Who knows what kind of cool conversations or things you could learn about them in that setting!
posted by Salamandrous at 8:11 AM on November 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, for the excellent ideas and sympathy.

Journaling is such a good idea. I haven't done it in a long time, but used to enjoy it. I even have a nice lightweight blank book I can bring. Thanks to those who suggested it!

Paulsc and others: I will definitely NOT be ditching the tour and going off on my own, for a lot of reasons. I pretty much have to stay with the group. But I do plan on walking around alone during our few hours of free time.

zeph: Wow, sounds like you have been through the same feelings, if not the identical situation. Thanks for your post. I don't drink, so I'm not in danger there...but I know what you mean, sometimes a person can get so irritated that they make a bad decision just to feel like they're making their own decision. I hope it doesn't get to that point. Maybe I'll try some patterned breathing...!

metahawk: Can't draw, really, but that's an excellent suggestion.

AngerBoy: Yup, we all got free copies of "Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide" from the Temple, which I thought was very nice of them. Trouble is, I'm not really a spiritual traveler. I'm Jewish but am really more on this trip for history and cultural stuff. I'm going to try to keep an open mind though. I certainly wouldn't be the first person to have an unexpected spiritual experience in Israel, right?

Salamandrous: my parents won't be along. It'd be worse, in a completely different way, if they were...but we won't go into that. They did help plan the trip, though, which is partly why I can't go off by myself and ditch the tour activities.

In general, I am looking forward to this trip much more than I was. This kind of tour is expensive, let's face it, and I was having a little self-pity-party thinking I was paying all this money to spend 12 days feeling irritated and not-in-control. You have all helped me think about it more positively. Thank you!
posted by gillyflower at 9:09 PM on November 30, 2007

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