The problem with staying in hostels

I had big plans for Istanbul. All these great ideas about the things I was going to do.

I pretty much had every day figured out: visit a bathhouse here, cross over to the Asian side there, hit the markets, check out the restaurants, see the important sights, wander aimlessly for a while.

And I really did get some of that stuff done. Just not all of it. In fact, not even close. Why? Because I stayed at a hostel.

Ostensibly, hostels – they stopped being "youth" hostels a long time ago – are a great option for travellers, particularly those traipsing around on their own, and on a budget.

You give up a few creature comforts for the greater good. That often means sharing a room with five or six strangers, one of whom will invariably be a snorer, another who will attempt to coax someone into having drunken sex with them in the top bunk, and another who will have to get up and pack their bag at 5am. It also means a lack of bed linen and some occasionally frightening toilet and shower facilities.

But it's worth it. The budget aspect means your travels last longer. But the other attraction of hostels is the social side, because everyone knows you don't meet people when you're locked in a hotel room by yourself.

Share a dorm with someone, however, or even a hostel common room, and all of sudden you're having a conversation. You've met a Swedish guy who's been on the road for 18 months. You've met a couple of Dutch girls who're on a break from uni. You've met the obligatory Aussies and Kiwis.

People are friendly and open, and pretty soon you've met new friends you can sight-see with, eat with and party with during your stay.

It's perfect, right?

Well, no. Because all those friendly, interesting people have a habit of distracting you. All those cheap beers at the hostel bar do, too.

My carefully laid plans for Istanbul were quickly scuppered, and I blame the Bauhaus Hostel.

I shared a room with a Portuguese guy, Joao. We got along well, so we decided to hang out for a few days, seeing a mix of his choices and mine, while also nursing a couple of killer hangovers we managed to pick up at the rooftop bar.

I met a Canadian guy, Mark, who persuaded me to go on a mad 36-hour jaunt to Cappadocia – a trip that consisted of eight hours of sightseeing, four hours of sitting around waiting, and 24 hours sitting on a bus. So that was two days of Istanbul completely wiped out.

I ate most meals not at the authentic, locals-only restaurants I'd planned to seek out, but at the cheap and nasty kebab joints that my budget-conscious new mates were forced to dine at.

And I never did make it to the cool Taksim bars I'd planned to check out. Instead, I sat on the hostel's rooftop in Sultanahmet most nights chatting to random people from around the world.

The one night I did make it across the bridge to the nightlife district was on the hostel pub crawl, which took us on a very short tour of some very crappy establishments. (And by the way, if you're trying to make yourself feel really old and a bit creepy, you could do worse than go on a pub crawl with a bunch of 19-year-olds when you're in your 30s.)

None of that would have happened if I'd been staying at a normal hotel. I'd have stuck to my sightseeing plans, visited all the places I wanted to visit, and woken up each morning feeling fresh as a daisy and ready for more.

But I didn't – because I was at a hostel.

Of course, I could have spoken up and done my own thing at any point. But I'd have had far less fun. And fewer Facebook friends.

Do you stay at hostels when you travel? Do you find it completely changes your plans?

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