Couchsurfing in Hawaii

Couch Tourism: Forget staying in hotels with amenities such as room service, or in-room mini bars. Millions of travelers prefer to spend their vacations with perfect strangers.

Couchsurfing was started in 2004 by Casey Fenton and three others. Fenton got the idea from a trip to Iceland. Wanting to meet locals, he emailed students at the University of Reykjavik, introduced himself and asked whether anyone could host him. He received multiple replies, and the concept of Couchsurfing was born.

Members sign up, fill out a profile and add photos. Details include age, sex, job, languages spoken, philosophy, interests, countries you’ve visited and your hosting setup (i.e., couch, separate bedroom, floor, etc.) Then, other surfers contact you to stay at your place and you, in return, can inquire about crashing at other users’ places. The organization now has 4.8 million users in 207 countries, mainly in the U.S. and Germany. Hawaii-based surfers have an advantage: Everyone wants to come stay in the Islands!

We met up with two Honoluluans to hear how they use Couchsurfing and why they don't mind having strangers crashing at their place.

Rob Boller

Age: 40

Member since: 2005

Job: Professor

Setup: Couch available for up to two guests in Honolulu area.

Number of Countries Visited: 30

How He’s Used Couchsurfing

Boller first couchsurfed on a Brazil trip. “It sounded absurd,” he says, but he was picked up by a woman at the airport and had a great time. Seven years later, he estimates he’s had about 100 Couchsurfing experiences, hosting about 70 people and surfing on about 30 different couches. “I’ve made lasting friendships,” says Boller. 

Hosting Philosophy

“I don’t necessarily have to be an entertainer,” he says. “It’s more like, ‘Here’s the key, come and go as you please.’” He says he usually has a meal with his guests. He hosts about every other month, even though he gets three to five requests a week. He has a two-night-maximum policy, unless he and his guests hit it off. “I had a guy from Sweden who stayed for two weeks,” Boller says. 

High-Trust Community

Like Barney, Boller vets a user’s profile first and communicates with them via email.

Boller says he’s never had anything stolen. “It’s a super-high-trust community. It’s a brave thing to put yourself out there,” he says. “You’re not getting the generic hotel experience.”

Liz Barney

Age: 25

Member since: 2010

Job: Special-education teacher

Setup: Futon bed available for one guest in Honolulu area.

Dream Destinations: India and New Zealand

How She’s Used Couchsurfing

“I moved to Hawaii on a whim,” says Barney, originally from Michigan.

She didn't know anyone and wanted to explore Oahu, so signed up for Couchsurfing. In addition to hosting and traveling, people use it to meet other local members. She has since learned how to surf, cliff dive, snowboarded on the Big Island and crashed on a couch on Kauai.

Doing Her Homework

“A lot of it is about the reviews and their photos,” says Barney of the safety aspect. She checks out a user’s profile, and even profiles of people they’ve hosted or stayed with. Barney also messages them to get to know them better. “I do my homework. But I trust my gut, Couchsurfing is about trust.” It helps that she has a roommate, she adds.

Hospitable Host

Barney hosts about once a month and has gotten travelers from Belgium, Spain, Micronesia and Japan. She gets about three requests a day. Barney says she likes to spend time with her guests outdoors: hiking, surfing and bouldering. “As a teacher, I spend most of my time indoors.” In return, her hosts cook her meals from their home countries. “Sometimes we swap music or movies,” she adds.