In the past month I was asked to take part in an amazing experience in Israel with a project called DigIsrael. As is so often the case with these things, I was too busy and in too obscure of a location to take part. Thus, I sent my marketing manager at Vagabundo Magazine on the trip in my place. I asked Jackie to post an article for us all here and on Vagabundo Magazine. I hope you don’t mind the change in course, but it really was a great project and even though I didn’t get to go, I’m glad I got to send someone in my name.
Turns out that it pays to know Brendan (who knew?). This past September I traveled to Israel in his place on a trip prepared by DigIsrael, a student organization promoting the history and culture of the region through visits to various archeological sites.
I didn’t have much time alone with the other writers and bloggers on this trip, and so as soon as I did get a second alone with a few of them, I asked how this excursion compared to the other organized or sponsored trips they’d taken. I was curious because this trip was my first press-related one, and everything seemed to be running pretty smoothly to me, but I didn’t exactly have anything to compare it to.
Everyone immediately agreed that this trip was exceptional for several reasons, but namely because everything had been organized by a group of students rather than a tourist board – a group of students in their twenties who, for the most part, had no professional tourism experience to speak of. And yet they pretty much rocked it.
DigIsrael is actually part of a larger organization called Stand With Us, a leadership group for university students who show outstanding initiative in various academic fields. These students organized an impressive itinerary for us – an actual archeological dig, a tour of the Roman ruins at Caesarea, a quick crawl through the caves at the Madras Ruins, an incredible home-made lunch at a kibbutz, access to the Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock, a tour of the City of David, a swim in the Dead Sea, and a hike up to Masada.
And to help us through all of that, they’d hired a pretty badass guide, Michael Bauer, who pretty much knew everything about everything, including the value of adding suspense and animation to any story. We all agreed that we would listen to him speak about ancient history (or about anything, really) in a university lecture hall for hours if we could.
They also reached out to several prestigious speakers, lecturers, and tour guides – people that they had heard of and admired and never actually thought they’d get to meet in person. Among these were archeologist Jacob Sharvit, who spoke to us about underwater excavations at Caesarea, and also archeologist Aren Maeir and his team at the Gath excavation site.
But the thing that impressed me most about this group of people was the work they put into all of the smaller, behind-the-scenes details, the things that weren’t necessarily as important because they weren’t the things we’d be writing about (… until now!).
The DigIsrael crew made sure we had wifi access on our tour bus at all times (and in each hotel at night) so that we wouldn’t go through withdrawal from Twitter. They had a never-ending supply of water and snacks, and they gave us hats to protect our faces and necks from the sun. When they picked us up from the airport, they greeted us with cookies and had already waited in the long taxi lines so that we wouldn’t have to. They gave us little portable fans to carry around on our first long day outside.
They stayed out late with us at a few bars even though they were probably completely exhausted and wanted to sleep just so that we wouldn’t miss out on the Jerusalem nightlife. They did not judge us for our coffee addictions and would plan quick coffee pit stops at gas stations if the bus ride was going to be longer than an hour. On the night we spent at a kibbutz, we all relaxed and chatted around the table in the courtyard until late at night, as if we were just friends sitting on a patio catching up about our summers. A lot of them were around my age and we could talk about school and backpacking and our relationships, realizing that we had more in common than we’d thought.
I think that their youth and their camaraderie added an element to this trip that isn’t necessarily a given when you’re taking a press trip like this. I’m not saying that tourist boards or other companies that organize these types of trips are impersonal, but from what I’ve heard and from the posts I’ve read about these types of trips, I think the focus of these things is usually on the main events – the sites you see, the events you attend, the cultural traditions you experience – rather than anything that happens behind the scenes. And obviously the big things will be the topics you write about and try to promote since you are obviously there to highlight a certain country or region, but some of the smaller, in-between things are often the ones you’ll remember more clearly, and every once in a while those are the things I’d prefer to hear about.
For me, the people behind this trip were as important and as memorable as the sites we saw and the places we visited. I wanted to write about them because they were “Israel” to me as much as the Dead Sea was.
I know that I don’t have any other press trips to offer up in comparison, but I still think that this trip had to have been remarkable in many ways, especially in terms of the people who were behind it. Quite frankly, in terms of basic logic, it just doesn’t seem possible for every trip like this to be this good.