Just back from a week in Istanbul. Dubai is a great city, but honestly compared to the size and bustle of Istanbul it now feels like a small town. I get healthy travel expenses on such trips, but for the second time in two months I chose to stay in a backpackers’ hostel, even if everyone else on my training course stayed in hotels (usually big name).
I think I’d have been happy as a monk or in the military – for me accommodation means getting a bed that I can sleep on, a decent shower, and (ideally) wifi. You can get that in a hostel for less than 20 euros a night (and often with free breakfast). In addition they’re generally well placed – I was in the heart of the old town. Maybe I’ve spent too long in Africa, where travelling up country you’re happy when there is water in the taps, a room that seems relatively mosquito free, and a fan with electricity. If you get AC, you’re dancing.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m stingy. There may be an element of that. But I just feel cheated when I have to spend a lot more for not much more. In addition to the above, what do you pay for in a hotel that you actually need? Those free soaps and shampoo? The bath robe, slippers and bede? A bed that could fit three? I just feel I’m being cheated – unbelievably, often in upmarket hotels the internet isn’t even included and the breakfast prices make your eyes water. Want a television (which I never watch)? Add $20 to the price. Add a small fridge? Add $20 to the price. Anyway, as you can see, I’m a bit of puritan.
There’s a slight irony as well – the more you pay in life, the more you can distance yourself from your fellow man. In a hostel, you may be in bunk beds ten to a room. But for me that’s a plus (I can sleep through anything, so snoring, and even sleeping with the light on doesn’t bother me). Weren’t the best times of our lives at university, packed into halls of residence meeting people every day? I used to love the social aspect – mixing with people, living close. I loved it when my house in Abidjan was full of people all chatting and mixing, children jumping on adults and people telling stories while the food is being prepared. In hostels there are often communal tables and you can make friends with those in your room.
The same principal seems to apply to public transport – you pay more to be further removed from others. Mastering the public bus system was cool in Istanbul – on my first trip a stranger paid for my trip as I discovered you couldn’t pay by cash. I then found it intriguing how people paid for the bus – when it’s crowded people get on through the middle and end doors, and pass their cards (or sometimes even their whole purses) forward in a human chain to be touched against the e-payment pad at the front. Travelling on the bus feels like you’re doing what normal people do. I remember back in Bissau (capital of Guinea-Bissau) how it costs basically nothing to travel in these minibuses with row seats – you all kind of squeeze in together. In places like Istanbul that attract so many tourists, you get the feeling there are a lot of people out to exploit you and make you pay over the odds. In non-tourist cities, you generally get what you paid for, but in tourist cities you can find yourself paying $50 for a barely edible meal.
So, I’m happy with accommodation that includes free wifi, free breakfast and one of the best locations in town. I also feel there’s an element of sustainability – should I ever become poor, or come to a city without modern facilities, I can still be comfortable, and for me that’s an important life habit. If you were happier with less, you can afford to make less compromises in life aimed at supporting an unnecessary lifestyle. So, vive the hostel.