Israel was the first country I've ever visited in the Middle East, and although I tried my best to arrive as a blank slate, I couldn't help but have a few preconceived ideas of what to expect while visiting a country only a short 100 miles from the border of Syria.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but a progressive hub, with a booming tech industry and a vibrant community of young party-hungry adults, was a surprise, to say the least. I felt like I had closed my eyes in San Francisco and woken up to the same city, freshly painted head to toe with incredible street art, a light dusting of grit, and scattered remnants of ancient history around every corner.

Tel Aviv was captivating and I found it unusually easy to fall head first into a culture of people who have made the best of a highly coveted and often conflicted area of the world.

   And then there was the food. In the middle of an unforgiving desert, just a stone's throw away from the hypersaline waters of the Dead Sea, markets were packed with avocados, bananas, apples, cherries, plums, nectarines, grapes, dates, strawberries, and pomegranates. As it turns out, Israel is an innovative leader in agriculture and produces 95% of its own food products. A true testament to Israel's defiance in the face of the impossible. If you're a Veggie traveler, you'll be stretched to find a country more suited for a meat-free diet. 

   So if you're looking for a down to earth, history-packed, well-fed, backpackers experience, I'd highly recommend an extended visit to Israel. With so much to offer from the mountain-high walls of Masada, the moving holy land of Jerusalem, alien waters of the Dead Sea, Dolphins of Eliat, to the streets of the Florentine, Israel is one for the bucket list.