Frequently Asked Questions
What is The Society for Biblical Studies?
S.B.S. is a non-profit, tax exempt (IRC 501 c 3) organization and a publicly supported foundation (IRC 170 b 1 A vi). It is incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is an ecumenical, interfaith organization, dedicated to contextual, experiential study of the Bible and the mission of the Church.
S.B.S. is an educational organization. Our classrooms are the lands of the Bible themselves, including all of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
S.B.S. 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 provides programs of study and mission experiences in the countries of the Mediterranean and Europe for clergy and laity.
Who is The Society for Biblical Studies?
S.B.S. 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 twelve men and women, clergy and laity. Our interfaith faculty includes ten men and women from the United States, England, Greece, Turkey, Denmark, Israel and Palestine.
Most importantly, S.B.S. is the people of all ages who have participated in one of our programs. Our participants have unique life changing experiences. S.B.S. 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 S.B.S. programs different?
S.B.S. is not a travel agency. It is an educational instution. All travel arrangements we make serve our mission objectives. All S.B.S. programs are custom designed in consultation with an S.B.S. faculty member to meet a group leader's specifications. Programs vary in the number of days, 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 as best we can. 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. 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 travel study 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 indigenous people and engagement of contemporary issues.
How do I register for a program?
You were probably 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 can fill out the registration form 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 seventy days prior to departure. A late fee will apply thereafter and enrollment is subject to space availability. Some programs require a deposit and registration ninety days prior to departure, so please read your program conditions carefully, call us or check with you group leader. Please make sure your registration form is filled out thoroughly. Check with your group leader for details such as the group name and departure dates. We will be in touch with you only if there is a need for clarification. Otherwise, your cancelled check is your confirmation that you are enrolled. 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 have already been working on logistical details like air and ground arrangements for your program. You will receive flight and travel information from our office between thirty and forty-five 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 anything 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. However, unless otherwise specified, the price will include round trip airfare from the gateway city, i.e., the city from which you depart on your international flight, group transfers between the airport at your destination and hotels, lodging, breakfast and dinner daily, ground transportation to and entry fees for sites listed in the itinerary, instruction, airport, port and departure taxes, facility and security fees, tips for maids, reception and waiters at hotels.
What is not included in the price of the program?
Unless otherwise specified, the price will not include domestic travel. Optional costs such as single room supplements and travel insurance are not included. Personal expenses such as laundry, individual travel arrangements, passports and visas, beverages at evening meals, excess baggage fees or other airline baggage fees, tips for porters, bus drivers, guides (especially where local laws require SBS to employ a guide and on some electives) 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 lunch, depending on your choices and depending on where the lunch stop occurs. Sometimes there are more choices. Sometimes lunch choices are limited. Tipping is sometimes expected and other times discretionary, 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 travellers.
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. Our programs are priced to deliver the best quality program at prices that are affordable. Because our programs are unique, they are very labor intensive. Consequently, we prefer to minimize the costs of administration in order to keep our program prices affordable. Your cancelled check is your confirmation that you are enrolled. If you would like individual receipts and periodic statements of your account, you will be charged an additional $100 administrative fee.
Can I pay with a credit card?
The Society for Biblical Studies accepts Visa and Mastercard, but all our posted prices reflect a 3.9% discount for payment by check.
What about Visas and Passports?
You are responsible for having a valid U.S. passport or, if you are not a U.S. citizen, proper travel documents. We advise you that your passport must be valid for six months after your return to the USA. An airline may prevent you from boarding a plane if your passport is expiring in fewer than six months after your return.
You can register without a valid passport, but you must fill in any details you already have, such as your birth date.
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 on the registration form. This is so that we can arrange for group visas in advance. In most cases, S.B.S. will arrange for visas to be issued for all U.S. citizens who are traveling with the group. Visa costs vary from country to country and change without notice. They 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- U.S. citizens vary widely from country to country. If you are not a U.S. 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. S.B.S. 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.
Are there any special requirements?
Persons needing wheelchairs or ambulatory assistance will find travel to archaeological sites difficult, because sites are not accessible. Please inform S.B.S. 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 S.B.S. 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?
No vaccinations or inoculations are required for travel in any country in Europe or of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. However, you should check with your own doctor for personal advice.
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 you luggage is labeled with your name, address and phone number! S.B.S will be sending each enrolled person two luggage tags to use. Most airlines restrict the checked bag to forty-four lbs. So, it is a good idea to travel light. Some airlines charge additional fees for luggage. These fees, if any, are never included in the price of the program. 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 the year and the country 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. There are no special dress requirements for women.
Don't forget your Bible.
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 be sending each person two luggage tags to use for this purpose.
Here's a list of what experienced travelers pack:
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?
S.B.S. strongly recommends 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 S.B.S. or shop for your own. Anyone who would like S.B.S. 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. 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. The cost of any travel insurance premium paid to S.B.S. 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, itinerary changes and costs additional associated with these. For example, weather conditions, including snow, high wind and volcanoes can impact on airline flight schedules. Mechanical failures can also precipitate schedule changes and additional charges, including occasional forced overnights. Vendors of services usually do not assume responsiblity for weather conditions, but sometimes they do. Vendors usually assume responsiblity for their own failures, but not always to the traveler's satisfaction. For these occasions, travel insurance is sometimes helpful.
What about SBS' responsiblity 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 or default for any changes in the program, we will assume the costs such changes incur. When unforseeable events force schedule changes before or during our programs, we will do whatever we can to make suitable new arangements 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 accomodation by purveyors of any components of tours and/or programs. Responsiblity will be strictly limited to activites over which The Society for Biblical Studies, Inc. has sole, exclusive and absolute control. The Society for Biblical Studies does not issue refunds for any unused portions of your program payment. Nor does the Society for Biblical Studies 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. S.B.S. considers this practice inappropriate and does not participate in it. Our instructors, drivers and S.B.S. 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. S.B.S. avoids such cartels. We promote socially responsible shopping at coops and non-profit foundations that market goods produced by grass roots artisans. At such places, money is distributed more fairly, more 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 probably will 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 temps 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 than in the U.S.A., 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 temps as high as 115, while higher elevations, such as Jerusalem, remain very pleasant with daytime temps usually in the 80's and nighttime temps 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 and 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 hotel (and airport) porters. You do not have to avail yourself of their services, but if you do a tip will be expected of about $1 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 $5 and $10 per person per day. In Israel/Palestine, you should anticipate about $5 per person per day for the driver’s tip.