I haven't posted anything for the last few days as I've been away in England, where I was giving a paper at an Oral History Network conference at the University of Warwick. Normally when I'm visiting that part of the country I will try and stay with my awesome friends Sam and Anna in Birmingham, but as they were away whilst I was there, I ended up staying with someone through couchsurfing.
I have only been a member of the couchsurfing website since 2012, so the vast majority of my couchsurfing experiences have been since I went vegan, and I'm happy to say that so far I've had no problems being either a host or a surfer. There are definitely a few things that I've found have made life easier when couchsurfing as a vegan though, so I thought I'd share them here:
The first thing I should say is that I choose to keep a completely vegan home, so not everything I write here will be relevant for everyone! I think the most important point I can make here, regardless of individual circumstances, is that when inviting strangers from the internet to come and stay in your home, clarity from the outset is really important. On my profile it states very clearly that I do not allow animal produce of any kind inside my flat, with a brief explanation of what counts as non-vegan food and a hyperlink to the Vegan Society website's explanation of what vegans eat. I also make it clear in my profile that I'm more likely to host someone who isn't vegan themselves if they mention in their request to stay with me that they understand what being vegan means and are willing to respect my desire to keep a vegan home.
As I live in a very popular city for tourism, I usually get between 1 and 5 couch requests every day from people looking to stay with me, so I do tend to be pretty tough when it comes to deciding who I'm prepared to accept into my home. The first thing I look for is a well-written request from someone who has clearly taken the time to read my profile, and who has filled out their own with information about themselves, also taking references into account. There is a huge amount of trust involved in letting internet strangers come and stay in your house, and so this part really matters to me! I do generally prefer to have vegans or vegetarians stay, but I've had plenty of non-veg guests too. It's definitely much more important to me that I believe that my guests will be respectful of my home and my wishes regarding non-vegan produce in the flat than whether or not they are veg*n themselves.
When my couchsurfers arrive, the first thing I tend to do is to show them around the flat and where they will be sleeping, and at this point I remind them that I keep a vegan home, so whilst I don't mind what they eat/do outside of my flat, one of my very few absolutely unbending rules is that I do not allow animal produce anywhere inside my home at any time, and that I expect them to respect this. If I can spare the time, I also often offer to go with them to the local shop in order to help them find food to bring back to the flat which is vegan, if they like.
I've only ever had one instance where I've had a problem with couchsurfers not respecting that I keep a vegan home in over 40 hosting experiences, and this was partially down to cultural differences as they came from quite a non-vegan friendly place, but also that they were not experienced couchsurfers who seemed to believe that they could treat my house like a hotel rather than understanding that it is a huge thing to let strangers stay in your home. It was one of my earlier hosting experiences, and I think I've learnt a lot since then about being more careful about who I accept to stay.
So far, I have hosted people a lot more than I have surfed away from home, but I've always had great experiences doing so. If at all possible, I prefer to stay with a vegetarian or vegan host, as it really does make life so much easier! In particular, I've found that veg*n hosts are much more likely to be able to help with finding vegan foods and places to eat out, which is especially important when you're travelling abroad (although I always make sure to check out the vegan travel website HappyCow before I leave though as well).
To find a veg*n host, I've found the easiest thing to do is to do a normal couchsearch for the area that you want to visit, and then filter the results page using the keywords 'vegan' and/or 'vegetarian'. I then check any matching profiles to see if I think we would get along well, whether we have things of common and, very importantly, to check the context for how the word 'vegan' is used in the profile. For example, you could get a keyword match on 'vegan'' if someone said that they loved eating meat so much that they didn't want vegans to stay, so it's definitely worth checking!
Whilst staying with someone, I always try to offer to cook something for my host(s) in the evening while I'm there, which serves the double purpose of being a bit of a thank you for hosting me as well as ensuring that there will definitely be something vegan that I can eat, and just generally being a nice thing to do.
All in all, I've had great times staying with both vegans and non-vegans, and last week was no exception. I had a fantastic time staying with my (vegan) host, and one night we even went out bat surveying in the local area together! Couchsurfing really is a great way to travel, meet people and get to know a place, and especially to do new things that you never would have done otherwise. However, like many aspects of vegan living, a little preparation and forethought goes a long way towards making life easier.
To finish, here are a couple of photos of two incredibly cute bats we found during the surveying (the point of the survey was to identify their species and write down a few details about their weight, size, reproductive status and so on, so as soon as this was done we released them straight back into the woods):
I'd love to hear from you if you've ever had any couchsurfing experiences yourself as a vegan, good or bad, or if you have any other tips for vegan couchsurfing you think I've missed, so please do feel free to write any in the comments below.