Select International Tours Blog
“Oh, please be careful. It’s so dangerous over there.”
I knew my friend meant well, but her words were not comforting. I was only a few days away from departing for the Holy Land and my nerves were already raw from packing, checking flights, reading weather reports, finding someone to care for my cat, and scheduling a ride to the airport.
I had dreamed about visiting the places where Jesus walked since High School. That dream was jaded by year upon year of news reports featuring skirmishes and wars in and around Israel. The picture the media had painted was unnerving. I wanted to be excited, but in all honesty, I was a little scared and my friend’s words were not helping.
A family-member drove me to the airport, warning me on the way to, “please be careful.” Was I making a mistake? Was I putting myself in harm’s way? I am normally very excited to get on a plane, but all these warnings made me very anxious.
I flew through Toronto on my way to Tel Aviv. The first flight was uneventful, and I arrived with plenty of time to make my connection. I found my next gate on the monitor and headed there to wait for boarding. When I arrived, there was an additional security checkpoint…only for our gate. I had never experienced this before. I waited in the line and reached the guard who examined my passport and boarding pass and asked me a few questions. He directed me to yet another bag check.
My mind raced. Why is there so much security? Is there a threat? Is something wrong? Should I walk away from this flight? The questions echoed in my head as I eyed every passenger waiting for the flight. With each reverberation, I heard the words of my loved ones, “Please, be careful.” It was only through the grace of Our Lord that I boarded that flight. My mind was working overtime to convince my body to abandon it.
If you have never traveled to Israel, I imagine you are facing the same fears that I did. I imagine that the news, friends, and family are warning you to, “please be safe,” as well. Most of all, I imagine that you are asking the same question that I did; “Is this trip even worth the risk?”
Let me put your mind at ease. Yes, it is worth the risk. And, perhaps more importantly, the “risk” is unjustly amplified. I have never traveled anywhere in the world where I felt safer than the Holy Land. Now that I have traveled there and back, I would return in a heartbeat! But I did learn a lot along the way that might help you feel a little more prepared for your trip.
I learned that additional security is normal for Israel. In fact, the security in place while boarding a flight is only the beginning. There are special restrictions to stay in your seats while in Israeli air-space. There are multiple security stops in the immigration and customs line. And, while traveling through the country, there are random security checkpoints on roads and at Palestinian Territory borders.
It was initially unnerving to answer questions of a security officer dressed in military fatigues and holding a weapon, but, in my experience, they were always pleasant and calm. They asked simple questions, checked my passport, then sent me on my way.
Crime and Common Precautions
Crime rates, in most cases, are significantly lower in Israel than the USA*. Violent crime is significantly less common. Still, this doesn’t mean you should be naïve. Petty theft from pickpockets and burglaries at tourist hotels still happen. So, take the same precautions you would take when traveling to any major city: use the hotel safe, carry a secure backpack or purse, and keep all your belongings on you.
When you stop to rest, eat, or sightsee, keep your belongings attached to your person or on your lap. Don’t leave your bag on the ground or hanging on your chair. Additionally, ALWAYS carry your passport and leave a photocopy in the hotel safe.
The political complexity of the Middle East requires additional patience from travelers. Mentally prepare yourself and expect to wait in security lines, answer questions about your travels, and show your passport. Pay attention to your guides’ instructions. They are familiar with the checkpoints and security requirements and their insight can significantly reduce the inconvenience. Security personnel are simply doing their job to keep everyone safe. A warm smile and friendly demeanor on your end will often be met with the same from them.
Departing Israel from the airport is far different from most places in the world. There are multiple security checkpoints and it can take much longer than usual to get from the curb to your gate, so be patient and allow yourself plenty of time.
On my most recent trip, we were stopped in the car—before entering the airport—for twenty minutes. They checked my bag, asked me and the driver several questions, and checked my passport and flight documents. When entering the airport, I had to go through two security checkpoints before entering the bag check. At the second checkpoint, they asked me several questions then instructed me to one of four bag-check lines.
In Israel, they profile every traveler and send them to a specific line depending on their “reading” of the individual. Don’t let this frustrate you. It is just part of the trip. While standing in the bag-check line, you will be asked the same questions you were already asked several times. Again, a warm smile and friendly demeanor will serve you well. They will check your bag thoroughly…meaning they may remove every item and inspect it, x-ray it, chemically test it, or even ask you questions about it. The process takes significantly longer than a TSA check in the USA, so exercise patience.
On my most recent trip, I arrived at the airport 3 hours and fifteen minutes before my flight. After all the security checkpoints and bag-check, I arrived at my gate, ready to board, with forty minutes to spare. The whole process took two hours and thirty-five minutes.
After a long flight, I walked to the Immigration officer at Newark International Airport. She glanced at my passport and asked how long I had been in Israel. “Seven days,” I replied.
“Wow. Short trip. Welcome home.” She waved me through.
I found my friend waiting for me outside the bag check. “Well, how was it?” She asked.
“Great. Israel is nothing like I expected. I can’t wait to go back.” I said.
Yes, really. My trip was short, but life-changing. There really is no way to translate all that happened to me in the Holy Land. I know that I’ll never be the same after the trip. I can see the whole story of our faith so differently now. And when friends ask me if Israel was frightening to visit, I tell them, “It was, no big deal.” They think I’m an intrepid traveler, but really, I’m just being honest.
*According to nationmaster.com (accessed September 12, 2019)
Michelle and Gus Lloyd walked the Camino de Santiago with a group of 26 pilgrims in August of 2019. If you have any doubt how much a pilgrimage like this can impact a person, we invite you to read Michelle’s letter to her Doctor. It is always wonderful to hear stories like this from group leaders and pilgrims on Select International trips.
September 5, 2019
Dear Dr. Lyons,
Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. I just wanted to reach out to you to share a recent adventure I was part of. First, a little back story. Last August, my husband, Gus was able to begin a bucket list trip with about 25 other people of walking the first half of the Camino de Santiago, a 480 mile walk that has many routes to get to the final destination of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Not sure if you are familiar with it, but about 10 years ago the movie “The Way” came out about it and there are many others as well, but if you are at all curious, I would recommend watching “I’ll Push You” as it is a very inspirational story of two friends who do the Camino together and one of them is a quadriplegic.
In 2013, I came to see you and scheduled my first total knee replacement but I ended up cancelling the surgery because we decided to move and I didn’t have time to deal with it then. Funny fact, the night before that surgery was supposed to take place, I saw you at Lowe’s in Carrollwood in the carpet department. Eventually, my pain got so bad that I didn’t want to get up off the couch to do anything because it hurt so badly with each step I took, so I decided to look into stem cells procedures after a friend of mine shared a Facebook ad with me. I felt like I really got my confirmation to go forward with that at church the Sunday before I began the procedures when I heard this scripture from Hebrews 12: 12-13 for the first time that said. “So strengthen your drooping hands and week knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed, but HEALED”. Sounds like a confirmation, right?? So I did the procedures twice on both knees but I never found the relief that I need to have an active life. So my husband started hounding me and asking our friend who lives in Kansas that is also an Orthopedic Surgeon to talk to me to try and convince me to just go ahead and bite the bullet and do the surgery. Honestly, my husband was ticking me off but I know now that he just couldn’t stand seeing the person he loved be in so much pain anymore and just wanted to try to help me find the answer I needed to get my life back So, unbeknownst to him, I had made an appointment to see you and scheduled my first total knee replacement with you about ? weeks before Gus left for Spain last year. I was obviously not able to go with him. You did my second total knee replacement in December of 2018 and I was 8 months out from that surgery when it was time for Gus and his group to go back to Spain to finish the walk this year. I decided that I wanted to go, not knowing exactly what I was getting myself into, (in hindsight, that was probably better). Now, I have always been a person who would work out to videos to keep in shape but I was never a hiker or runner. This year’s journey began in Leon, Spain and ended in Santiago. We walked 8 stages to complete the mileage needed to finish the walk (an average of 15 miles per day). The terrain was very difficult, especially the first two days, filled with many mountain climbs and many boulder-filled paths going down for miles. I believe at the end of the 2nd day the grade of going up the mountain was 23 %. Can you say, out of breath? Each day proved to be a very strenuous walk where I felt it in some part of my body, if not everywhere, but I have to tell you, MY KNEES FELT GREAT THE WHOLE TIME! I guess, maybe because I actually had the youngest knees on the trip! If I had any issues, it was with my feet which is to be expected walking 15-17 miles per day but I also have Morton’s Neuroma in my right foot to deal with. As I began each day, I knew we were going to walk, but I didn’t know what journey would unfold before me that day until I actually experienced it, but the one thing that resonated with me throughout the whole trip was a sense of THANKFULNESS. THANKFULNESS for the beautiful vistas I was able to see and walk through each day, THANKFULNESS for the people I was able to share this experience with, THANKFULNESS that I have a husband that has an adventurous spirit that he has shared with me, THANKFULNESS for the feeling that I actually feel like an athlete now, THANKFULNESS for all that I was able to accomplish each day, THANKFULNESS for being hounded by my huband to get the surgeries, ( I told him that I really got the sense as I walked that me not wanting to be cut open again made me realize that I was kind of like an alcoholic, in that, I had to hit rock bottom with my pain in order for me to bite the bullet and have the surgery done not only once but twice), THANKFULNESS for God answering my prayer through the scripture He gave me, even though it wasn’t through the stem cell healing that I wanted, but most of all, THANKFULNESS that I had a doctor that was the first one in his family to get a college degree and that I was blessed to have YOU and your knowledge and skill to perform my surgeries and GIVE ME MY LIFE BACK! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, for following the call on your life Dr. Lyons! We are all capable of doing so much more than we ever think possible and I’m so glad to say that I would never have known this without your help in my life! I am forever grateful! Know that you are changing the lives of your patients.
May God continue to bless you abundantly!
Most of our clients are concerned about medical coverage while traveling abroad. We always recommend the purchase of a good Travel Protection policy which includes coverage in case of illness or accident. The Travel Protection (Travel Insurance) policy provides peace of mind for you in case you need medical attention during your trip.
Select International Tours and Cruises offers an excellent policy through Travel Insured. Please refer to your trip page for details or call us at 800-842-4842.
Many travelers will call us to ask if they are covered by their current health insurance policy or Medicare. We recommend you call your insurance to clarify coverage. However, sometimes the information about coverage is confusing and even conflicting.
According to Medicare.gov, Medicare usually doesn’t cover health care if you need it when traveling abroad.
Here is the link to Medicare.gov which addresses the issue of coverage during international travel. https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/travel
You may purchase a Medigap policy which will cover you during international travel. Here is the link to the information you may find useful.
Important to Remember: Most foreign-based medical service providers will want to get paid on the spot. They will provide the paperwork for you to file a claim when you return but they will not do this work for you, nor will they be willing to wait for payment, so be sure you have a credit card you can use for emergency medical expenses.
Be sure to get copies of all your medical records from the medical service providers abroad as well as copies of all invoices and payments. Upon return to the USA, it is important to share your medical records with your doctor and file a claim with Medicare or another insurance company if you have a different policy or supplemental coverage. They may deny it but the system is so confusing it is worth a try.
The travel company cannot advance funds for any medical service!
The Catholic Feminist Podcast is, “…a podcast for Jesus-loving women who want to be inspired, involved, and intentional. Each week, we speak with women who are living out their faith in a radical, real way.”
That is a mission which is easy for us to get behind!
Select International Tours and Cruises is excited to announce our partnership with the Catholic Feminist Podcast. We understand that the word “feminist” is not usually associated with “Catholic.” Which is one of the reasons we are so excited about this partnership.
Words have the power to elicit an emotional response—we can all agree on that—but sometimes the emotional response is based on our experience of the groups that speak the word the loudest.
The word, “feminist,” is an excellent example. For many, the word dredges up a cloud of mire. Associations with competing social agendas, lifestyle choices, and political ideologies come to mind and the easiest thing for us to do is put the word in a box labeled, “Poison.” Is that really the best response?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, feminism is, “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” Weigh that definition against Genesis 1:27-28, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (RSVCE).
Can One Be Both Catholic and Feminist?
In a recent interview on Grottonetwork.com, show host Claire Swinarski answered the question this way: “…people don’t feel you can be both because society has completely warped the idea of what a ‘feminist’ is.”
“The Church asks us to value women, embrace their gifts, and uphold their place in society. It does so within the writings of Edith Stein and John Paul II too many times to count. So it isn’t so much that there’s a ‘middle ground’ as it is a full embrace of Church teachings.”
Why This Podcast?
The decision to support the Catholic Feminist Podcast did not come lightly. The title caught our attention and we wanted to know more. A few episodes later, we could see how important this podcast was in bringing attention to women’s issues and proving that a strong faith was not at odds with being a strong woman.
Consider this episode with Colleen Carroll Campbell. If you are not familiar with Colleen, she is a best-selling author and speaker. She was also a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and served as a North American delegate to a Vatican Congress on Women. In this episode, she discusses the challenges of perfectionism and how she has learned, through the lives of the Saints, to “trade in [her] view of ‘perfect’ for God’s.” The Catholic Feminist Podcast brings topics like this into the light and discusses them in a way that honors God, Scripture, and the Church.
Supporting the work of The Catholic Feminist Podcast is directly supporting the myriad women of faith building a firm foundation of faith in their homes, churches, and workplaces. Our hope is that many of these women will hear about and go on pilgrimage. We pray that those experiences will deepen their faith, so they can continue to move their families, friends, and children toward a more developed experience within the Universal Church.
Here is a nice summary put together by Philip Niswonger – one of the pilgrims who recently traveled to the Holy Land with Msgr. Paul Bochicchio and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers.
By Mathew Kelly
My friend Fr. Bob Sherry and I have been hosting pilgrimages for a long time. Our current schedule includes three trips each year: the Holy Land; Lourdes and Paris (France); and Rome, Assisi, and Florence (Italy). On the opening night, we always ask our pilgrims the same question: Are you going to be a pilgrim or a tourist?
Tourists want everything to go exactly as they have planned and imagined it. They rush around making sure they cram everything in. They’re constantly buying souvenirs and knickknacks, many of which they will look at when they get home and wonder, “What was I thinking?” They focus on themselves, often shoving past others to get where they’re going. Tourists go sightseeing. Tourists count the cost.
Pilgrims are very different. They look for signs. If a flight gets delayed or canceled, they ask, “What is God trying to say to me?” Pilgrims aren’t concerned with seeing and doing everything, just the things they feel called to see and do. They’re not obsessed with shopping. They are aware of others’ needs. Pilgrims look for meaning. Pilgrims count their blessings.
The reality is we are all pilgrims. This planet we call earth is not our home; we are just passing through. We build homes and establish ourselves on earth in ways that ignore that we are really just here for short time. It’s a dangerous pastime to live as if you’re never going to die, but consciously or subconsciously we all fall into this trap to one degree or another.
In this life, we’re just passing through. The happiness that God created us for is different from the fleeting happiness and momentary pleasures of this world. God created us for lasting happiness in a changing world — and eternal happiness with him in heaven. The happiness he wants for us in this life is a rare kind of happiness that isn’t dependent on situations or circumstances. It’s easy to be happy when everything is going well, but Christian joy allows us to be happy like Paul was when he was in prison.
Do you ever think about heaven? It seems to me we don’t talk about it anywhere near as much as we should. When Rudyard Kipling was very seriously ill, a nurse asked him, “Is there anything you want?” He replied, “I want God!” We all do. We may not be aware of it, but we want Him. Behind every desire for a new car or a new house, a promotion or accomplishment, clothes and jewelry, plastic surgery, adventure and travel, food and sex, acceptance and comfort, is our desire for God. We are always hungry for something more complete, and God is the completeness that we yearn for from the depths of our soul.
We are just passing through, and it’s helpful to remind ourselves of that from time to time. In the context of eternity, we’re only here for the blink of an eye. Realizing this changes our priorities. At the same time, we’re here for a reason. You are here for a reason. God has a mission for you.
Life is a pilgrimage, a sacred journey. Typically, a pilgrimage takes us to a shrine or other location important to a person’s faith or beliefs. You can make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, the Camino, or any of the famous Catholic sites around the world. But you could also make a pilgrimage to your nearest cathedral. In fact, every Sunday you make a pilgrimage to your local parish to Mass.
Very often people make pilgrimages with special intentions in mind. Some ask God for a favor, perhaps to heal a loved one who is sick. Others make a pilgrimage in thanksgiving for a blessing they’ve already received from God. There are always couples on our trips who are celebrating a wedding anniversary. On every trip, Fr. Bob chooses one of the holy places and invites every couple to renew their marriage vows. Powerful!
Life is a pilgrimage, but sometimes you need a pilgrimage to discover life. We’re journeying in this life toward the sacred city, toward the heart of God — heaven. Nobody makes the journey alone. We all need companions. I’ve met some of my very best friends in this world on pilgrimages. These friends encourage us and challenge us to become the “best version of ourselves.” By doing so, they help us to get to heaven.
Let’s pray for the grace to be pilgrims and not just tourists. Let’s pray for the grace to be the kind of friend who helps others in the great pilgrimage of life. We’re just passing through this place we call earth. At every turn we’re tempted to be tourists, so spend some time today thinking about heaven.
By Fr. Leo Patalinghug
Part of my “calling” as a priest is to be a “missionary” preacher – someone who is sent to preach the Gospel of Jesus to all nations. That’s why traveling is such an important part of my ministry. As you may or may not know, I lead many pilgrimages, about four each year.
Stay tuned for my upcoming 2019 travel itineraries to the Holy Land, Croatia, Amalfi Coast & Sicily, and a “Taste of Italy” trip!
In a recent trip to Budapest, I learned so many new things about our Catholic Church’s influence in that unique part of the world. I visited Budapest many years ago as a seminarian, but I was so impressed by what I experienced in my recent trip – as a priest almost 20 years later!
Click here to read more.
Some wonderful Bible verses to keep in mind on your next pilgrimage from Eliza Myers at GoingOnFaith.com:
The constant movement between meals, hotels and daily attractions can make a trip go by in a blur. To reflect on the importance of your journey, you need to incorporate time for reflection into your itinerary. Many faith-based groups love to accomplish this with scheduled short services full of prayer and scripture. These 10 Biblical verses about travel can prove useful in crafting a service that prepares your group’s hearts for the journey ahead.
- On safety: Psalm 121:7-8 “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.”
- On trusting the Lord during your trip: Psalm 23:3-4 “He gives me new strength. He leads me on paths that are right for the good of His name. Even though I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid, because you are will me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me.”
- On letting the Lord be in control: Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
- On keeping God with us on the journey: Psalm 19:10 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
- On evangelization for mission trips: Mark 16:15 “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
- On reminding us that all are welcome: Luke 13:29 “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”
- On the majesty of God: Genesis 1:1-4 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”
- On letting God lead the way: Exodus 13:21 “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or night.”
- On walking the path God has laid out: Psalm 18:36 “You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”
- On being thankful for God’s creation: 1 Timothy 4:4-6 “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”
Some spectacular photographs taken in Santarem and Vila Viçosa (Portugal) by Select International’s Office Administrator and pilgrim Isabel Augusto. She writes:
“The art and architecture are definitely worth the visit. The Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in Santarem is spectacular. They have various activities to offer to visitors including a sample of the wines and desserts prepared by the nuns.Vila Viçosa’s orange trees were in full bloom. Impressive to say the least.”
Theology of Beauty Pilgrimage to Italy through Faith, Fashion & Food with Father Leo Patalinghug and Leah Darrow
Your might call this a Catholic pilgrimage for foodies and fashion buffs. You will see Milan, the “Fashion Capital of the World” see the original painting of the Last Supper, travel to Turin, then Bologna (some of the best food in all of Italy), enjoy a cooking lesson (you will eat what you cook!), on to Verona, ending in Venice ( a full day in Venice) and much more.
With Mass every day and inspiring talks, this will be one of the best experiences of your life.
For those who wish, there is an optional extension to Rome: the group will travel by train from Venice to Rome where they will spend three days in “The Eternal City” visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Mary Major, attend the weekly Papal Audience, Tre Fontane and more.
Read more at The Catholic Travel Guide Blog by clicking here.