On paper: A supervised, inexpensive lodging place for young travelers on hiking or bicycle trips, etc.

In reality: The accomodation equivalent of a Kinder egg (or perhaps a box of chocolates) - you never know what you're gonna get. Hostels may be big or small, built this century or otherwise, have doors on the rooms or otherwise, etc.

Some things that you might not expect but can happen to you in a youth hostel:
  • upon arrival, notice that three busloads of 8-year-old children are also staying, most of them in your room
  • you end up with a nice private room, with real heating and a lock on the door that not even an 8-year-old could break
  • you have to walk seven miles uphill to find you're the only one staying in a tiny, bring-your-own-water croft house with the most fantastic view you'll see on this holiday
  • shower water pressure: it sometimes helps to make an offering to the god of your choice before turning on the shower.
  • you wake up at 7am, all refreshed and chipper, and actually want that breakfast they're serving...mmm! veggie sausages!
  • possibly due to last week's busload of 8-year-olds, can't shake the smell of wee
  • internet connections are sometimes available; eleven minutes for the price of a four-course-meal in the south of France.
  • you wake up in the morning to find three other people in your room who weren't there when you went to bed; they are usually sulky Americans or enthusiastic Japanese teenagers armed with useless guidebooks.
Hostelling International is a big fat hostel chain that makes travelling pretty easy; in the UK it's called the Youth Hostel Association, with more variants for Scotland and Ireland. Independent hostels can also be a gas - try one today!

And if anyone from Armadale Youth Hostel, Skye is reading this, I left my Nalgene bottle behind the curtain on the windowpane to make my water nice and cold in the morning, and I promptly forgot about it. I hope you like it.