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What is The Society for Biblical Studies (SBS)?
SBS is a non-profit, tax exempt (IRC 501c3) organization and a publicly supported foundation (IRC 170 b 1 A vi). It is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
SBS is an educational organization. It is ecumenical, interfaith, and dedicated to contextual, experiential study of the Bible and the mission of the Church. Our classrooms are the lands of the Bible, including all of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, Southern Europe, England and Scotland, Morocco and Brazil.
SBS’s mission is seeks to reform biblical studies by making it accessible, relevant and useful at the grass roots level of the Church. It seeks to redeem pilgrimage from commercial sightseeing. It seeks to activate participants in vital mission. It designs and delivers pilgrimages, programs of study and mission experiences for clergy and laity.
Who is The Society for Biblical Studies?
SBS is a community of people working at the grass roots level to make a difference in the world. Our ecumenical Board of Directors consists of men and women, clergy and laity. Our interfaith faculty includes men and women from the United States, England, Greece, Turkey, Denmark, Israel and Palestine.
Most importantly, SBS is the people of all ages who have participated in one of our programs. Our participants have unique life changing experiences. SBS is a growing community of people from Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions. When you enroll in one of our programs, we consider you a member and a partner. We hope to continue to provide you with enriching, educational and nurturing spiritual opportunities.
How are SBS programs different?
SBS is not a travel agency. It is an educational institution. We aim to insulate our travelers from the corrosive effects of commercial sightseeing. All travel arrangements we make serve our mission objectives. All SBS programs are custom designed in consultation with an SBS faculty member to meet a group leader’s specifications. Programs vary in duration, time of the year, and educational and missional emphasis, as well as logistical details such as hotel standards, whether lunches are included or not, and the overall price. No two programs are alike. This means that you may have some specific questions that can only be answered by your group leader or by calling our office.
We are here to help you. We bring the best of current biblical scholarship, mission theory and mission practice to all of our programs in ways that are accessible to all participants. No one is left behind or left out. Our programs are led by professionals educated in the Bible and mission theory. All of our faculty members are experienced in mission in one of several contexts. The collective experience and education of our faculty is second to no Bible study travel organization.
Our programs are designed to acquaint participants not only with the heritage of the Bible, but also its application in today’s world. All programs include meetings with people who reside in the countries we visit and engagement with contemporary issues.
How do I register for a program?
You may have been introduced to a particular program by a friend, your pastor or the group leader. After you have become familiar with the program syllabus, which includes dates, objectives, the daily itinerary and suggested reading, you[VS1] can fill out the registration form, available from your group leader, our web site or from our office and mail it to our office. Some group leaders prefer to collect all the registrations for their group and mail them to us at one time. When we receive your registration along with your $300 deposit, you are enrolled in the program. Deposits and registration can be made at any time. Sooner is better. The deadline for full payment is usually 90 days prior to departure. A late fee of $150 will apply thereafter. After the full payment deadline, enrollment is still possible but subject to airline and hotel space availability. Late enrollment might require the payment of an airfare differential and/or administrative charges. Some programs require a deposit and registration 120 or more days prior to departure, so please read your program conditions carefully, call us or check with your group leader. Please make sure your registration form is filled out completely. Check with your group leader or call us for details such as the group name and departure dates. Incomplete or incorrectly filled in registration forms might require an additional administrative charge. When we receive your registration form along with your deposit, you will receive an acknowledgement from our administration team. Once your invoice is complete you will receive another email from our bookkeeping team that will include a copy of your invoice and statement. If you would like individual receipts and periodic statements of your account, you will be charged an additional $100 administrative fee.
By the time you have enrolled, we already will have been working on logistical details for your program like air and ground travel arrangements. You will receive flight and travel information from our office between 50 and 75[VS2] days prior to your departure. This will include information on what to pack and what kind of weather to expect. You might receive a mailing even earlier. Please pay careful attention to any communications from our office.
What is included in the price of the program?
Each program is different, so you should read the program conditions in the registration material carefully. Check with your group leader or call us if you have any questions. However, unless otherwise specified, the full price will include round trip airfare from the gateway city, i.e., the city from which you depart on your international flight. It also includes airport transfer at your destination, lodging, breakfast and dinner daily, ground transportation once you arrive at your international destination, entry fees for sites listed in the itinerary, all instruction, airport, port and departure taxes, facility and security fees, tips for housekeeping, reception and waiters at hotels. All prices posted or quoted include a 3.9% discount for payment with a check.
What is not included in the price of the program?
Unless otherwise specified, the price will not include domestic travel to or from your gateway airport. Optional costs such as single room supplements (voluntary or forced). A forced single room supplement occurs when we cannot pair you with a traveler of the same gender. When this occurs, the forced single supplement is applied to the person who enrolls the latest and his or her invoice will be adjusted accordingly. and travel insurance are not included. Personal expenses such as laundry, individual travel arrangements, passports and visas, beverages at evening meals[VS3] , excess baggage fees or other airline baggage fees, tips for porters, bus drivers, guides (especially where local laws require SBS to employ a local guide) and SBS faculty are not included. Lunches are not included, but there will be a lunch stop every day. You should anticipate spending $5-$15 per day for lunch, depending on your choices and where the lunch stop occurs. Sometimes there are more choices. Sometimes lunch choices are limited. Tipping is sometimes expected and other times discretionary, depending on the country in which you are traveling, but you should anticipate $5-$10 per day for additional tips. Occasionally, fees for items such as airport security, fuel surcharges and visas change after SBS has determined a program price. When this change is outside our control and unforeseen, the additional fees will be passed on to travelers. All prices posted or quoted include a 3.9% discount for payment with a check. If you prefer to pay with a credit card, that discount will be reversed.
Can I book my own air travel?
If you prefer to make your own air travel arrangements, you can opt for a “ground only” package. Your ground only price would include all ground transportation from the moment you meet your group at the first hotel to the moment the group departs from the last hotel in the journey. Air arrangements and transfers between airports and hotels are not included. SBS’ responsibility begins when you meet your fellow travelers at the first hotel and concludes when your fellow travelers depart from the hotel to the airport at the end of the journey.
Can I depart or return on a different date?
You can alter your own departure and return dates to accommodate personal travel interests on either end of your journey. When you register, check the option to alter your travel dates and indicate your preferred dates. You will be invoiced an administrative fee of $150. Such changes might also involve an airfare differential. Any costs associated with your personal travel, including but not limited to hotels, meals, and transfers are your responsibility.
Can I receive periodic statements from S.B.S?
Yes. You can receive monthly statements from our office but we will charge you an additional administration fee ($100) for this service, unless it is already included in the price of the program. Of course, you can call the office at any time to get an update on your account or ask any question, without having to pay a fee. Because our tours are unique, they are very labor intensive. Our journeys are priced to deliver the best quality at affordable prices. Consequently, we are always working to minimize the costs.of administration
Can I pay with a credit card?
Yes. SBS accepts Visa and Mastercard payments. However, all our posted prices reflect a 3.9% discount for payment by check. Thus, if you elect to pay with a credit card, a reversal of that discount will appear on your invoice.
What about visas and passports?
You are responsible for having a valid US passport or, if you are not a US citizen, proper travel documents. Your passport must be valid for six months after your return to the US or country to which you are headed at the end of your program. An airline may prevent you from boarding a plane if your passport expires within six months (180 days) after your return. It is your responsibility to make sure your travel documents are valid.
You can still register without a valid passport or travel documents, but you must submit your registration form with any details you already have, such as your birth date and full name as it appears or will appear on your passport. Then, make sure you contact us to update your passport details when your new passport or travel document arrives.
If you don’t have a passport, apply for one immediately. It normally takes four to six weeks to be issued. Expedited service will incur additional and unnecessary expense that you can avoid by applying well in advance of your departure. You can apply for your passport at most post offices.
Please make sure you fill in your passport information correctly and as completely as you can in the registration form. This is so that we can arrange for group visas in advance. In most cases, SBS will arrange for visas to be issued for all US citizens who are traveling with the group. Often, foreign visas are free. Otherwise, visa costs vary from country to country and change without notice. Visa costs, if any, are not included in the price of the program. Such a change may require an additional charge being added to your account.
Visa and documentation requirements for non-US citizens vary widely from country to country. If you are not a US citizen or if you will be traveling on your own at any time, you will have to check with the embassies of any country you will be traveling in for information on what documents you will need and what additional fees might apply. SBS cannot make visa arrangements for individuals traveling on their own.
Is there much walking during a program?
All programs involve some walking. Each program is different and the amount of walking varies but, in general, ours are not athletic programs. Usually, the walking involved is not demanding. However, some programs include outdoor hikes. If yours does and you are not up to it, or for any reason you cannot be with the group for a particular part of the program, we can make special arrangements for you.
What if I have special requirements?
Persons needing wheelchairs or ambulatory assistance will find travel to archaeological sites difficult, because sites are not accessible. Please inform SBS when you register if you have any special physical requirements. Also, if you have any dietary restrictions or medical needs, please let us know when you register and inform your SBS faculty person when you meet him/her at the beginning of your program. If you need a special seating assignment for air travel, please let us know.
Do I need any vaccinations?
The only vaccination or inoculation that is required for travel to any country to which we travel at this time is the covid-19 vaccination. At this time, you cannot travel anywhere outside the United States without proof that you are fully vaccinated against covid-19. However, you should check frequently for updates and with your own doctor for personal advice on the advisability of other vaccinations.
What about luggage?
You are allowed one suitcase and one carry-on bag. This is because luggage space on buses is often limited. Keep your carry-on light and small. Your carry-on must fit under the seat or in the overhead compartment of the plane. Make sure your luggage is labeled with your name, address and phone number! S.B.S will send each enrolled person two luggage tags to use. Most airlines restrict the checked bag to 44 lbs. So, it is a good idea to travel light. Some airlines charge additional fees for luggage. These fees, if they occur, are never included in the price of the program. They are always out of pocket expenses. You should also check directly with your airline to determine any other baggage restrictions or requirements.
What should I pack?
Dress for comfort, not fashion. No matter how hard you try, you won’t “blend,” so don’t worry. Comfortable walking shoes are your most important item. Next comes rain gear, depending on the time of year and the places you will be visiting. In winter, rain gear is imperative and you should plan to dress in layers so that you can adjust as the weather requires. A windbreaker, sunscreen and hat are always good items to carry. Shorts and sleeveless shirts (on males or females) are not allowed in many religious sites such as churches and are inappropriate at any time of the year during touring. A bathing suit might be useful on some programs, even in the winter, because many hotels have pools and spas. We do not recommend jackets and ties for men. When traveling to the Middle East, modesty in dress is the norm for both men and women. Some holy sites require modest dress for men and women. There are no special dress requirements for women, except when visiting some mosques. In that case either your own scarf will suffice or proper covering will be provided.
Remember, delayed luggage happens. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on, in case your luggage is delayed or lost. If you are traveling with a partner, distribute your belongings between your two suitcases, so that if one gets lost, you will have something to wear in the other. Make sure your luggage is labeled with your name, address and phone number! S.B.S will send each person two luggage tags to use for this purpose.
Don’t forget your Bible.
Here’s a list of what experienced travelers pack:
- a change of clothes in your carry-on, in case your luggage is delayed
- comfortable walking shoes
- rain gear
- your Bible
- washcloth, since many hotels do not provide them
- batteries, memory cards and chargers for your camera and devices
- plug adapters and converters for electrical devices, such as cell phones, computers, battery chargers, razors, etc.
- ATM/debit cards, personal checks, credit cards, some US cash
It is a good idea to leave valuables, i.e., anything you’d hate to lose or feel is irreplaceable, and sentimental items, at home.
What about travel insurance?
SBS strongly recommends you consider the purchase of travel insurance to cover any losses that you might incur due to insurable travel delay, cancellation, trip interruption, flight schedule changes, illness, accident, etc. You can purchase travel insurance through SBS or shop for your own. Anyone who would like SBS to purchase travel insurance for them can indicate so on the registration form. Coverage and prices vary from one policy to the next. Some policies require that you purchase the insurance within fourteen days of registering in the program. Our registration form includes the bare details of the plan we can enroll you in. You can get the brochure by calling us or the insurance company directly[VS4] . Many personal health insurance policies already cover you for accident and illness when traveling abroad, but you may incur out of pocket expenses overseas, so check with your provider. The travel insurance premiums indicated on the registration form are subject to change. The actual cost of the policy at the time of purchase will be added to your invoice[VS5] . The cost of any travel insurance premium paid to SBS is not refundable.
What if I do not purchase travel insurance?
Travel insurance is optional and you should consider the pros and cons carefully. In doing so, you should be aware that all travel involves inconveniences. Travel insurance does not cover you for these. Travel also involves unpredictable changes in circumstances that sometimes require schedule and itinerary changes and additional costs associated with these. For example, weather conditions, including snow, high wind and volcanoes can impact airline flight schedules. Mechanical failures can also precipitate schedule changes and additional charges, including occasional forced overnights. Vendors of services usually do not assume responsibility for weather conditions, but sometimes they do. Vendors usually assume responsibility for their own failures, but not always to the traveler’s satisfaction. For these occasions, travel insurance is sometimes helpful.
What about SBS’ responsibility for unpredictable changes and refunds?
SBS is committed to the highest standards of care for each of its participants. If we are responsible by our error for any changes in the program, we will assume the costs such changes incur. When unforeseeable events force schedule changes before or during our programs, we will do whatever we can to make suitable new arrangements and minimize inconveniences to travelers, even when the change is outside our control. However, SBS can neither assume costs, accept responsibility nor assume liability for performance and/or delivery of services, transportation or accommodation by purveyors of any components of tours and/or programs. Responsibility will be strictly limited to activities over which SBS has sole, exclusive and absolute control. SBS does not issue refunds for any unused portions of your program payment. Nor does SBS take any responsibility for any changes to any travel arrangements that were initiated by the individual traveler. If you initiate any changes that result in a refund due or cancel your enrollment and these changes are within 50 days of departure, any refund will be made after the day of departure.
Will there be time for shopping?
In our collective experience, we have yet to meet a group of travelers that does not want to shop a little. Some like to shop a lot. There are a number of ways to satisfy this interest and if it is requested, our staff can help make shopping arrangements. You can always shop on your own at times that do not jeopardize the program.
In our opinion, however, shopping raises specific issues of moral responsibility. Commercial tour companies routinely make money from your shopping. So do commercial guides and drivers. Usually this practice is covert. Backroom deals are a form of anti-competitive business practice, are dishonest and make shopping and traveling more expensive for you. In effect, this is a hidden cost of travel. SBS considers this practice inappropriate and does not participate in it. Our instructors, drivers, guides and SBS itself refuse to take commissions.
Second, in some environments, such as Palestine, an already stressed economy is further exacerbated by the practices of the souvenir cartels that concentrate capital into a few hands and engage in anti-competitive business practices. SBS avoids such cartels. We promote socially responsible shopping at co-ops and non-profit foundations[VS6] that market goods produced by local artisans. At such places, money is distributed more fairly, evenly and horizontally throughout the economy. We encourage people to shop at Christian institutions where the sale of hand made items supports the mission of the institution. We appreciate your understanding of our posture on shopping.
What will the weather be like?
It depends on the season and the region you will be visiting. For average temperatures and weather conditions where and when you will be traveling, you can consult any weather web site. Winter weather in the Mediterranean region can be unpredictable. Our advice is: Be prepared! During the course of your journey, conditions will change frequently. Wind can make moderate temperatures feel much colder. Rain is likely. You will probably be changing elevations. Even snow is possible, sometimes in large amounts. The weather rarely keeps us from our daily itinerary, but if you are not prepared you might experience some discomfort. Prepare for temperatures suitable for swimming at places such as the Dead Sea or Red Sea coast, but also for chilly days and cold nights in places such as Istanbul, Jerusalem and Amman. Winter temperatures around the Mediterranean may range from freezing to 80 degrees. This is why layering is so important. For winter travel, hats, gloves, windbreakers, scarves and raingear are essential.
In the summer, you will probably be surprised to find the climate more pleasant than many places in the US, because of the lower humidity. However, certain locations will require special attention to the effects of the sun and dryness. Lower elevations, such as Jericho, experience temperatures as high as 115 degrees, while higher elevations, such as Jerusalem, remain very pleasant with daytime temperatures usually in the 80’s and nighttime temperatures in the 60’s. The sun is strong and so we recommend long pants and long sleeved shirts. Sunscreen and hats are also essential. Raingear is not.
What out of pocket expenses should I anticipate?
The program price includes most expenses associated with the program. Please see the “program conditions” of the registration form for a detailed list of which expenses are or are not included. We will review the salient details of this information upon arrival. In general, purely personal and discretionary expenses are not included.
Any foreign visa fees are not included in the price and, if they occur, they are each passenger’s responsibility.
Any airline baggage fees are not included in the price and if they occur, they are each passenger’s responsibility.
Lunches are extra and you should anticipate costs varying between $5 and $15 per person per day for lunch, depending on the choices available and your preferences.
Most tips for hotel staff are included in the program price. The exception is porters at hotels and airports. You do not have to avail yourself of porters’ services, but if you do a tip will be expected of about $2 per bag.
In some countries, we are required to utilize guides and we always have the assistance of drivers. The guideline for tips for drivers and guides is between $8 and $10 per person per day.
Is the electrical current different?
The countries of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East operate on a 220 volt electrical system. This means that electrical devices designed for use in the US will not work without the appropriate conversion devices. Trying to use electrical devices without a transformer and/or converter will result in damage to your device. Even with a transformer, some appliances, such as electric blow dryers, will not work well. Converters and transformers are available in the US at hardware stores and electrical supply stores. Adapters for plugs are also available and these will be necessary. Always make sure you purchase a plug suitable for the country to which you are traveling and be sure that the transformer is heavy enough to handle the wattage of the device you will be using. Laptop computers, cell phones, tablets, etc., often come equipped with a built-in transformer in their charging cords and can be operated on any system between 110 and 240 volts as long as the proper plug adapter is used. Check with your computer dealer to determine if you can use your laptop without a transformer.
Can I drink the water?
In European countries tap water is fine to drink. In the Middle East, circumstances vary. In Israel/Palestine and Jordan, tap water is fine to drink. Other places require caution. Our staff will give you specific guidelines for the countries in which you travel. However, as added “insurance” practice, many people like to purchase bottle water. You will want to bring bottled water with you during each touring day. Dehydration can be a problem for Middle East travelers, making them ill. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Also, a product called “Immodium A-D” is available over the counter at any drug store. It is a good idea to carry this with you, even though it will probably not be necessary.
Will there be internet access?
There will be times when you will not have internet access, but, generally, wifi is widely available, including on some buses.
Will I be able to make phone calls?
We recommend that you download WhatsApp to your mobile device which will enable you to have wifi calls with anyone else who is also on WhatsApp. You will be able to call and be called from your hotels. We will supply you with phone numbers for your hotels prior to your departure.
What about money?
US currency will be accepted in many places you will be traveling. US currency is accepted almost everywhere in the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and many other places. Some countries, such as European countries, require you to use local currency. Our recommendation is that you bring US cash, but rely on your debit card for cash needs. US cash can be converted to local currency if you would like to do so. It is also recommended that you bring your checkbook as well. Of course, credit cards are a good idea, too. One way or another, you will want to have some local currency. Our staff will give you guidelines. ATMs are widely available.
Will I be able to participate in service projects?
Quite a few of our programs include service opportunities or offer them as options. If so, there may be additional charges for transportation and materials, when the project calls for these. We recommend that you plan on donating $50 per person to the mission site where you will be working to cover these expenses. The work project, if any, will be arranged in consultation with your group leader. There are usually a variety of tasks to be done at the work sites, so we will do our best to match your skills with the site’s needs. Tasks range from light maintenance to building homes to plastering and painting to teaching English to working alongside human rights activists.
What should I expect at the hotels during the journey?
Hotels vary from place to place and program to program. For guidance on the type of hotels in your journey, consult your group leader or call us. The program price is based on double occupancy hotel rooms. Single occupancy is usually available at a supplemental cost that varies depending on the country, the hotel and the time of the year. Each room will have an ensuite private bath. We prefer to lodge our participants in smaller hotels, kibbutzim and guest houses, but sometimes the program calls for 5 star hotels. You can specify your choice of a roommate when you register or we will assign one to you. If an odd number of participants in a program requires us to assign a single room to someone, we will assign that room to the last person to enroll and the single room supplement will apply.
What airlines does SBS use and can I cancel my ticket?
Reservations are non-refundable once ticketed. The program price is based on travel in jet economy class aboard IATAN and ARC carriers only. Flight times are subject to change by the airlines. SBS is not responsible for such changes or delays and cannot reimburse expenses resulting from them. SBS does not recommend the purchase of budget tickets for domestic airline connections.
What if I do not live near my gateway airport?
Some international airlines offer feeder services from US cities that connect with the international flights. These are called add-ons. Sometimes we arrange domestic air feeder service for the entire group. Sometimes it is an individual request. The additional charges vary. Group leaders are given the cost of domestic add-ons, if available. Anyone who would like to purchase a domestic add-on must indicate so on the registration form and purchases will not be made until the cost has been communicated to and accepted by you.
What if I need to cancel?
SBS will make every effort to recuperate program payments in the event of cancellation. However, our ability to do so is sometimes limited. 100% of cancellation fees are covered by the optional travel insurance if the premium has been paid and the reason for cancellation is insurable. The following cancellation penalties will apply: from the day of registration to 90 days prior to departure, $85; from 89-70 days prior to departure, $125; from 69-45 days prior to departure, 35% of total program cost; from 44-31 days prior to departure, 70% of total program cost; from 30-8 days prior to departure, 85% of total program cost; within 7 days of your departure, 100% of total program cost. If your cancellation is after the full payment deadline and causes a forced single supplement to another traveler, that cost will be deducted from your refund. Any unrecoverable charges, e.g., airline or hotel charges, will be deducted from any refund. Total cancellation charges will not exceed the total program cost. The cost of travel insurance is not refundable.