I arrived in South Africa & quickly departed: the experiences that scared me back home & my plans to one day return

When I travel, I always follow my instincts. If a street I’m about to walk down looks dodgy, I don’t go down it. If a hostel room creeps me out, I insist on changing it. So when my Africa trip went totally sketchy, I decided to bounce.

First and foremost, I do not want to judge the entire country of South Africa based on the incidents that occurred at JNB airport. In no way, shape or form am I. But when one bad thing after another keeps happening, it scares me; enough so that I had to re-think traveling solo throughout the country for two months, and decided I can’t.

It all started with my shuttle driver who was to pick me up at the airport and take me to my first destination. I brought everything in a carry-on, but my one checked item was a large box filled with school supplies that I and my coworkers were donating to some school kids via Pack for a Purpose. So I had a luggage cart with the box and my carry-on on it. Now, I’m not one of those chicks that need a guy or expect a guy to help carry my things, but as a shuttle driver, usually they offer to assist with luggage or carts. This guy was not having it, nor was he even walking with me. Also, at no point did he even introduce himself to me; there was absolutely nothing that pointed out that he was in fact a shuttle driver. He was walking so far ahead, it too struck me as odd. While we were walking, he made some strange phone calls saying something along the line of “she’s on her way…” and others in another language I couldn’t understand. Once we got to the parking structure, the guy couldn’t find his car, and he seemed to be lost. I was getting a really strong feeling that something wasn’t right, and once we got to his car and I saw what it looked like, there was no way I was getting in it. I have no idea what it was, it was just one of those unexplainable feelings you get that tells you DON”T GO.

We were the only people in the area, so I was increasingly becoming more scared at the thought of leaving with him. Without hesitation, I told him I had to get something from the airport and I’d be right back in about 15 minutes. He grabbed his phone, dialed some number, shoved it at me and insisted that I tell the place I was going that I’d be late arriving. I automatically asked him why I would call them to tell them I’m running 15 minutes late, especially since it was only 7am. I could understand if it were late at night and I was nearing a check-in cutoff, but this wasn’t the case. He couldn’t find a reason as to why I needed to tell the place I would be late. Just then the lady at the end of the phone answered and I told her I would be late, she seemed confused as to why I was telling her, and she said it was something I had to tell my driver, not her. Again, the situation just kept getting more and more creepy. I hung up, he got mad and questioned why I had to go back into the airport. I just said I had to get something, and I’d be back in about 15 minutes; I wanted to go and find someone who could contact the place I was supposed to be staying at and try to find another form of transportation for me to get there, but he didn’t want me to go.

I walked away very quick; I’m guessing I was visibly in distress due to all the negative attention I was receiving.
I definitely learned a very important lesson: when you appear frustrated/confused/distressed/in need of help, you become an easy target.
As I was walking, I had numerous people try to take the box off my luggage cart; I had people jumping in front of me, stopping me and asking in a very stern voice what was in the box. One of the people was a man dressed in military clothing, and insisted he see the contents. Another man stopped to ask what was in the box shortly after, and then demanded I pay him money (he repeatedly stated any currency would be fine). Here I brought this box full of school supplies to be donated, and so many people were trying to take it from me.

I didn’t even make it to the information desk I was aiming for, when a man came from my left side, grabbed my luggage cart away from me, and ran off. Another man in a red jacket grabbed it for me, and brought it to me. I thanked him, and he asked where I was going. I told him I was trying to find the information desk, and he grabbed my cart and started walking off into a completely opposite direction of the desk (so I would find out later where the desk was). He kept mumbling that he was a porter, over and over again, but I didn’t understand what he was talking about. All I wanted was my cart. At least just give me my backpack, and if you feel like a good person stealing the box full of school supplies from your own people in need, than so be it. But give me my stuff. I walked so fast to catch-up with this new dude that now took my cart, that I was basically almost running after him. I grabbed it and said I could take it from there and thanked him for his assistance in retrieving my cart from the previous guy. It was then that he got in my face, pressed his body against my side and demanded I give him money. Again, within just a few steps of the last attempt, I was facing even more extortion threats. My guess is this guy was working in collaboration with the other guy who ran off with my things; there’s no way he was in the right place at the right time. I was so infuriated that I told him to fuck-off, and he got in my face again. It was probably really stupid for me to say that, and I thought about it after the fact, but after a short argument with him, I walked off and he didn’t follow.

I was so frustrated and confused. I knew ahead of time that the airport had crime issues; you can read all about it on the internet or hear about it from people who had experienced it themselves. But all of this in a short period of time (I’m talking all within about 30 minutes) is too much to deal with. At this point, I was by terminal A, and I went to an employee working at the information kiosk and asked where the British Airways desk was, as I couldn’t find their ticket counter. The lady stared at me, and then got up to go talk to one of her friends passing by; they pointed at me and laughed from across the way. I asked a security man standing by where the desk was for international flights and he said I had to go back to terminal B. I went all the way back to terminal B, only to have the British desk tell me they couldn’t help me, and that the desk I needed was down in terminal A. All I wanted was for someone to help me. I had forgotten all about calling the original place I was staying at; I just wanted to find someone who could give me honest advice on what to do or where to go, so I was sticking with someone from the ticket counter. I went all the way back to terminal A and found the British desk finally (it was hiding against the opposite wall in the very back corner with no large sign, making it easy to pass by), but not without being harassed by a few more people, including someone grabbing my small daypack that was on my back (that was the single most important piece of my belongings, containing my money, laptop, camera and travel documents). When I made it to the counter, without even thinking of what I was about to say, I shouted to the lady “I need to go home.” The entire time I was looking for the counter without any idea of what I was even going to say, but I suppose my subconscious knew. I broke down and cried to this woman about everything that happened; she searched for a ticket that night for me to turn around and go back, but there was nothing available until 6-7 days later, with the exception of one first-class seat available for that evening. She then insisted I stay, but I was so flustered over everything I had just been through that I didn’t want to be alone. I couldn’t take the thought of traveling alone in the country for two months.

Even while standing at the British counter, all the way at the end of the terminal where no one else stood, two people tried inching their way over to my luggage cart while I was talking to the lady; both of them were young teenage boys. I contacted my family in California, and the whole time I was telling them what happened, the lady at the British counter was yelling at me from over the counter telling me she called her friend to come pick me up, and they were taking me to their guesthouse. I’m not saying that these people had any bad intentions, and maybe she just felt really bad for me and wanted me to experience the good in South Africa, but I just couldn’t trust anyone at that point. While talking to my father on the phone, he too overheard the lady telling me what to do and that she had her friend on the way to get me. Also, the entire time I was at the British counter, the price of the first-class ticket kept changing. The lady refused to give me an actual price of the available ticket, only saying “it’s 10 times more than what you paid” or “it’s a much greater cost than what you booked.” While talking to my family while at the counter, they saw a ticket online that was available for a fraction of the cost, and when they did, her prices suddenly began to change, and the first-class ticket suddenly went down to $5,000. When I questioned her the cost of the ticket my family found for $2,500, she said my price would be $4,000 for it.

My family instantly booked me a one-way ticket home on Delta airlines for a whopping price of $2,000. My entire roundtrip ticket with British was only $1,400, but I didn’t care. I was over it and just wanted to go home.

The Delta counter didn’t open for 6 hours, so I had to hang out in the food court area until it did. I sat at three different restaurants, all of which I was continued to be the target of extortion plots. From being told I had to pay to sit, to being told “we KNOW you have money, give us some,” I just couldn’t get away from any of it. At that point I felt safer sitting in front of the Delta counter; at least I’d be around security.

I was becoming more and more frustrated pushing around the luggage cart, and in front of the Delta counter was a sign that a company named Swissport handled all baggage for Delta. I wanted to find their kiosk and ask to check my box in so I wouldn’t have to push it around for hours more. I asked a group of airport police where I could find the kiosk, and they chatted between themselves for about 2 minutes, laughed and then gave me directions to somewhere across the street. I gave them the dirtiest look and booked it straight to the closed Delta desk, where I sat on the floor for 3 hours. I couldn’t even trust the police.

While sitting on the ground I noticed the real airport porters, all wearing red jackets that clearly had “porter” written across their backs. The man who grabbed my cart earlier was indeed posing as an airport employee. But what difference does it make when you can’t even trust the true airport security or employees? There was no difference between the two categories to me anymore.

Just then a group of 6 Americans also joined me at the closed Delta counter. They had missed their connecting flight the night before due to the flight being canceled from rain. The South African branch of Delta was insisting to them the only way they could get home was to buy an entirely new ticket, and said they weren’t responsible for canceled flights due to weather. They spent a few hours on the phone with the American Delta branch, and they of course said they can’t charge them for a new ticket due to weather delays. I listened to them fight for hours over getting home; one of the men with the group was from South Africa and stated “this is why I moved away from here; bullshit always prevails.” In the end they had to purchase a new ticket, also thousands of dollars, but were told over the phone by the American branch that they’ll work to get it refunded for them through the Better Business Bureau.

I had never been more excited to check-in to a flight. But, when I got to the check-in counter, I was told I didn’t have a ticket and that I was on stand-by. I blew-up at the lady who told me this, and insisted I get on the next flight out. If they overbooked, find someone else to bump, offer them something free and get me home. I know airline rules, and I know I can’t be bumped without free accommodation or some type of compensation, and there are plenty of people who will take another free night somewhere in exchange for being bumped, just not me. Not to also forget that this last-minute flight cost $2,000; I’m going home. I spoke to the supervisor of Delta who worked his magic and somehow got me a seat (bless his heart!).

Once I was in the gate, I was relaxed. I knew I was going home, and I couldn’t be happier than to be sitting on a 16 hour flight to Atlanta. I didn’t care that I had the last seat on the plane, in the very back next to the window (I’m an aisle-seat-in-the-middle-of-the-plane type of person). I took a couple of Xanax with a few vodka tonics and passed out for most of the flight. The one time I woke up, I took another pill with another drink and quickly went back to sleep. I know we hit extremely bad turbulence most of the flight, but nothing phased me.

Here’s the deal: I spent two days traveling to South Africa, 16 hours in the Johannesburg airport, and another two days traveling to get home. My legs are killing me and I still feel like I’m flying when I stand, sit or lay down after so many hours smushed into an economy seat on multiple flights. The first place I was supposed to be staying at sent me a very unnecessary message pretty much shaming me for not arriving. At no point did they ask if I was OK, and that to me really speaks worlds. If this place jumps straight into shaming a person for not arriving for their reservation, then it only confirms my reasonings for not showing in the first place.

I feel as if I let so many people down by not following through with my Africa travels; from the numerous companies that were so kind to sponsor me, to my readers and my friends who I was meeting up with in Durban…. but I realized I can’t feel bad for not feeling safe. Again, I am not in any way comparing the entire country of South Africa to the bad encounters I had at the airport, but crime in South Africa is definitely a real threat, and something that isn’t a joke. I WILL make it back to Africa some day, just not alone. I am aware that heaps of people travel the continent solo, I just didn’t feel comfortable being alone and fighting off unwanted encounters. When I do return, it will be with an organized travel group and a personal friend or two.

The hardest part of all this was sending emails to those companies who sponsored me telling them about why I left. I truly hope they understand my safety concerns after dealing with all the issues I was faced with. I wish I could have continued my journey and was able to see the good in Africa, because I KNOW it exists.

In the end, NO travel is worth your personal safety; if you feel threatened by any situation or person, WALK AWAY. I can always go back, but I can’t un-do a potentially life threatening situation once I’m in the middle of it.

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About The Roaming Bean (109 Articles)
You're probably wondering what the heck is a "Roaming Bean"... Given that I am clearly not a Bean, and my name is Jen, what gives with this Bean thing, right? A friend of mine called me JenBean as a child, and it kinda stuck. Actually, it really stuck... even my license plate says Jenbean. And seeing as I have this grand lust to wander the world, The Roaming Bean seemed suitable. I've changed my career path more times than I have my underwear (minus all the times I've gone commando).... from animating, to forensic pathology, to international business, to fashion marketing and even to my wonderful and favorite of the bunch, degree in culinary arts, nothing kept my attention. Nothing was fun enough to do every day for the rest of my life. I mean, even though I cooked for celebrities in the heart of Hollywood, CA, why the hell would I want to sweat my ass off in a ridiculously HOT kitchen for most of the day and go home smelling like beef and onions? And the chef hat?? Do you know what that did to my hair?? Enter traveling.... The rainy day I descended down the tower of Notre Dame in Paris, gripping on to the railing for dear life so not to slip and tumble to an early death from the torrential down pour that was causing a small flood in the stairwell, my life changed. When I safely made it to the ground, legs shaky from an apparent lack of fitness it requires to walk up and down 387 steep stairs, I realized my hands were stained a delightful copper color from the rusted hand rail I had so dearly clung to. Desperate to get the icky stuff off my supple hands, and no running water in sight, I did what any other hopeless idiot would have done: I washed my hands in the nearest Parisian gutter. It was that moment that changed my life... I threw away my hair dryer, my rolling luggage and my dignity. I let my hair go natural, I bought a back pack and I CAMPED through Europe for a month and a half. Yes my friends, I crossed over into a savage traveling beast. Ok, a lot of people travel that way. But I didn't. And I'm so incredibly thankful for that rainy day in Paris that made me realize the world is a pretty sweet place. That realization led me on a quest; a quest to get out there, see things, soak up some local culture and eat my way around the world (with minimal food-related illnesses, such as but not limited to raging diarrhea).

68 Comments on I arrived in South Africa & quickly departed: the experiences that scared me back home & my plans to one day return

  1. Weird. I travel to Johannesburg at least once a week through this same airport and have done for years. I have never once had any experience like you describe.

    I am South African and although I am not form Johannesburg, I guess I have a “I’m a local, don’t even try it” air about me. With regards to porters, I find one stern glance and firm head shake as they approach stops them in their tracks and they don’t even continue to walk towards me.

    What a bizarre experience you had, and I’m glad that, in the end, you felt you made the right choice.

    For what its worth, it was a very atypical experience.

    T

  2. I am just glad you trusted your instincts and managed to get home safely.

  3. Truly shocking, it amazes me how heartless and mean people can be.

  4. Unfortunately Nelson Mandela’s dream for our country has slowly slipped into a total crime ridden hell. As the white people knew all along would happen if the ANC takes over.

  5. Like I said in previous comments, as it’s clear you’ve read, there’s a lot I left out when I wrote this post as a result of having no sleep when it was written. I do need to rewrite and update the post, as things DID happen.

    I said what happened to me in no way reflects how the country as a whole should be perceived. I also stated how I was traveling alone and didn’t feel safe to continue as a solo traveler. Surely you read that part, but chose to overlook my feelings, and surely you too could probably agree that a solo, female traveler might not have the safest of journeys through SA, like other locals have agreed on.

    “Despite our deep troubles”… Are you referring to me being laughed at when I asked police for help after struggling to get away from someone who tried shoving me in their car? (Like I said, I need to update my story.)

    I am, without a doubt, one hundred percent happy about my decision to not continue my solo travels through SA, and equally looking forward to the day I return to actually see the country for all the good is surely does have.

  6. Helmine Smit // February 4, 2015 at 12:01 pm // Reply

    Don’t come back until there’s been major changes. I lived here all my life and was raped by my father when I was 4 – 9 and he got away because I didn’t have enough evidence. Today I will never be able to have children of my own and I’m still looking for closure. Best of luck

    • That is awful; I’m truly saddened to hear this.

      I don’t have plans to return anytime soon, but I will one day. The rape stats are mind-blowing, and it’s impossible to imagine what someone like yourself has gone through.

      I wish you the best, and hope you can find closure soon!

    • I am sorry for your experience however your fathers terrible deed is not a reflection on South Africa but on himself. It has nothing to do with our country. Fathers commit those terrible crimes in the US too I’m afraid…

  7. I’m so sorry to hear all of this. I think misunderstandings occurred because of unprofessional behavior by employees of all sorts at the airport.

    • It was amazing that airport employees, mainly police, didn’t seem to care. I watched fake “porters” harass travelers and scam them for money while police just overlooked the issues, I watched airport employees violently grab luggage carts away from little old women…. it was definitely intimidating.

  8. Hi Bean,
    Good for you. Your instincts saved your life and at the very least from being raped.
    I live in South Africa and can tell you that it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but an absolute hellhole.
    I personally know 7 people that`s been murdered. I don`t even want to go into the rape stats.
    My niece is 20. Just after Christmas she and 2 male friends came from watching a movie and 3 black males tried to rape her.
    They pistol whipped the one boy. Broke his jaw and he had to undergo major facial surgery. They tied up the other Boy.
    They had her completely naked and just then some White people noticed what was going on and helped them.
    So by all means, Watch the travel channel and enjoy the beautiful scenery. But if you value your life and dont want to be raped. Stay away.

    Found your post by searching for the toilet paper in Greece issue πŸ˜‰

    • That’s absolutely terrible…

      I know so many people who have visited and have all had amazing times in SA. No one I know has had any experience close to what I had, including friends of mine who live in Durban. I have heard so many bad, and also good, things about the country, and I do want to revisit- just not alone!

      One day I’ll make it back, but I will be with a group. it’s definitely the one time I will be happy to travel in a structured group travel!

      Thanks for the comment, and stay safe!

      (Funny tidbit of info: my blog is mostly found by people searching for Greece toilet paper issues. I never thought anyone would be searching for such a thing!)

  9. Really sounds like a scary story! Wow..you really did spend quite a sum to get back home, I think I would have flown instead to a nearby country or so…sorry that you missed out on South Africa, because of goons at the airport…I hope you get back another time soon with friends or so, I think S.A is pretty cool, but even I, when I get there, will be very cautious, I hear that Jo’burg is quite dangerous..so it’s good to trust your instinct

    • It was for sure scary! A lot was left out of this post when I wrote it; I was beyond sleep deprived when I posted this, so at some point I need to revise it and fill-in some blanks! It actually got crazier before I left!

      I was debating on flying into another country, but I wasn’t packed for anything else. I went home and then flew into Ireland about a week later, plus I was so exhausted to try and figure out where to go.

      I will definitely return to South Africa, just this time with a friend. Or two πŸ˜‰

  10. Hi there! I realize this is somewhat off-topic however I
    had to ask. Does building a well-established blog like yours require a
    lot of work? I’m completely new to operating a blog but I do write
    in my journal on a daily basis. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my experience
    and feelings online. Plesse let me knkw iif you hage any kind of suggestions
    or tips for brand nnew aspirding blog owners.
    Thankyou!

  11. That 1st shuttle driver i’m pretty sure he was a Nigerian scammer… JHB is a melting port for crimminals coming from all over poor african countries next time i suggest you take a flight to Capetown, durban or pretoria these cities are much safer than JHB

  12. What a traumatic experience. I agree wholeheartedly that you follow your instincts. That’s why we have them. I’m sorry you had such a horrifying introduction to South Africa. When we traveled there, we met with nothing but wonderful people. I do hope you’ll go back…with someone!

    • I will definitely return! But I had to listen to my instincts, like you said, and go with what I was feeling. I do look forward to meeting all the wonderful people of South Africa one day! Thanks for your encouragement!

  13. For me. the JNB experience was pretty awful despite being well traveled as a solo female – I had many offers to help me with my bags and they put their hands on the cart to push. I was staying across the road at the hotel so not far to walk and still had a guy follow me “to help” as I got confused in the arrivals terminal (i wanted an ATM which was upstairs in back of food court I came back later). Shame you didn’t go to the hotel across the road, the folks at the Intercontinental were stellar. On the flight home, the bellman from the hotel escorted me to the BA check-in and once he walked away, a man got in line with me to push my cart! It was really intrusive and since “no thank you” didn’t work – my new phase is “don’t touch me” as people seem to react to this quickly.

    I was disheartened that this was the first and last impression of the beautiful country I spent a month traveling in as the people I met with so friendly along the way to show me the beauty of their country. The airport does have this issue (I had read about it prior to arrival) so alerting people to watch out is a good thing and good on you for going back –

    • Morioka following others “to help” was definitely an issue I observed just sitting in the food court. It seems as if the police presence is non-existent, and those that are, wouldn’t help me. There’s a lot more to this story, big chunks of what happened I didn’t write about, and those parts are the reasons why I chose not to stay. I am looking forward to returning again one day and to see how amazing the country truly is… Just not alone! πŸ™‚

  14. in Johannesburg. I hope when you decide to visit South Africa again that you have someone with you. It is a beautiful country, and not all the people here are bad people. But please google crime and farm murders in south africa, before you visit our country. Hopefully next time u going 2 have a wonderful time here.

  15. i believe every word. and no, ur not paranoid. im living in south africa. believe me it is a bad place, full of crime. stay away. if i could, i would have left this place

    • Trudie,

      This breaks my heart to read! I do still want to travel South Africa, and when the time is right for me to do so I will.

      Where do you live?

    • Your story is so melodramatic. You came with a preconceived idea about “Africa” and the terrible place it is and ran screaming when you got off the plane and one thing confirmed your beliefs. If you were looking through different glasses your experience may have appeared so different – you didnt allow it to. Your story merely stirs panic and fear and terror into your readers with very little, in fact no basis. Have you really travelled there?? Stayed there? Spent time? Met the locals? Found out more about the nation? Its people?? You ran scared after noone ACTUALLY did anything, you just thought they might, and then wrote your story to make yourself feel better. What i find even sadder is that you have managed to rally bitter twisted South Africans too, who can now jump on your band wagon and comiserate with you. I find it so deeply sad to write of your home “it is a bad place, stay away” – Africa has a richness that other nations will never understand. Despite our deep troubles we strive for greatness every day – There are good passionate caring people who get up each day and work hard to provide for their families, and uplift those who have nothing. There are organisations, companies individals and children that dedicate their lives to the betterment of one small country on the tip of Africa. There is a rumble and stir in your soul here that you will sadly never experience. It would do people who hate best to walk away, for it doesnt serve anyone to stir anger and hatred further. Especially not a,ongst those who need to make this country work – might you agree?

  16. Africanaquella // October 19, 2013 at 1:19 am // Reply

    Pathetic.im from south africa and this is the most ridiculous, story I have read, from a paranoid Yankee,go figure.South africa is incredible and many of my friends from europe and uk often visit and enjoy the beauty of south africa.People are very hospitable and kind and you just bailed after 2 days, pathetic.Dont judge a country until you have actually gotten out of the airport and seen and experienced it!By the way it is actually a world class airport
    Also I have been to Atlanta and its by far one if the ugliest places i have seen and not that safe either.But i dont judge the whole of Usa based on Atlanta, there are a lot of beatiful parts.Next time why dont you educate yourself and stop being an ignorant american.You should have given it time or maybe just get a little streetsmart and not act like a fearful tourist.When I was in naples, italy, first world europe and parts of the states i had to do the same!

    • I stated, more than once, that I was not judging the entire country based on the events that occurred at the airport; you should read that part again before accusing me of doing so.

      After I was almost shoved into the man’s car, I decided I wasn’t traveling the country alone for two months. It was also a decision I was happy about making after my belongings were taken from me and two police wouldn’t help me. This makes me paranoid?

      I have friends who live in Durban who offered to help me, but at that point I didn’t want to continue traveling alone. The street smart approach you’re suggesting I take is something I followed, which is trusting my instincts and doing what I feel is comfortable and right for myself.

      And, like I said, I’ll be back one day to see the country for what it really is. Just not by myself. I don’t think that’s being a “paranoid yankee.” At no point did I discriminate against anyone from South Africa, and at no point would I. Why? Because I’m educated and that’s not my style of “fighting back.” You, on the other hand, apparently aren’t “educated” enough to take that same route, and comment with insulting and discriminating words; you’re doing to me what you’re accusing me of doing, which is expected from someone who is “ignorant.”

      In the end, there’s nothing pathetic about someone not feeling comfortable after someone tried shoving them in their car. Comparing first world Europe to the safety concerns that numerous other residents of SA themselves have warned me on is not comparable. Take a look at some of the comments on here from others living in SA, and you’ll see what I’m saying.

      • africaquella // October 19, 2013 at 12:58 pm //

        Look here chica, street smart is going away and not letting that man bother you, good on you, running back to America that is a little pathetic and then writing bad stuff about south africa on your blog after one of the workers offered her friend to pick you up and take you to a guest house, ( which was so kind of her), its people like you that give south africa a bad name, because what? America is that great, look at what your president is doing to Syria. And dont you dare accuse me of being ignorant and uneducated had you been educated enough you would have known that South Africa is a third world country and there are high levels of unequality and an uneven distribution of wealth in the country and as a result crime is rife so why did you opt to travel solo? Also With that knowledge you should have been more aware and booked your car with a reputable company. You speak english dont you? Yes so does the rest of South Africa, because we were a previous British colony, so you could have opened your mouth and asked for help, explained your situation go to the authorities. there are cameras everywhere, why did you not report it? Instead you booked a flight back to the states and continued complaining on a blog. and look at your response isnt that the pot calling the kettle black? You are being agressive, rude and threatening so who is the ignorant uneducated one right now? So be careful not to point fingers. Well chica have a good night maybe i should not have called you an ignorant yank, i do apologise for that but if you yanks did not insist on being so ignorant then maybe we would not have to call you that.
        Have a wonderful night. Ciao

      • I booked a car with a very reputable company, and they ended up ADMITTING to sending someone who wasn’t their driver later on in an email. A reputable company compromised my safety. Yes, it was nice for someone to offer to help me by giving me a place to stay, but at that point I wasn’t putting my trust into someone I didn’t know. I think that’s pretty smart. If I can’t take a taxi at the airport, why would I take a ride and stay with someone I don’t know?

        I asked for help more than once, and a formal complaint has been filed. A lot of that was left out of this original blog, mainly because I was exhausted when I wrote it. Did I complain on my blog? NO. Did I mention the name of the very well known company that jeopardized my safety? NO. My point, and I stand behind it, was to state to others the dangers that lurk, no matter what country one travels to. It was to listen to and trust your instincts. I can always return to SA, or any country for that matter, but if I’m in a bad situation, that chance might not be possible in the future.

        In no way am I being threatening. You originally accused me of basing my experiences at the airport on some sort of bad feelings towards SA, which I never did not will I ever. I still want to travel SA, because I know it would be an amazing country to see. I want to meet the amazing people who live there, because again, I met people who live there during previous travels and absolutely adore them. In bold print, in the very beginning of my post, I clearly state that I am not basing my overall opinions on the country on the events that happened at JHB. I also reiterated that in the closing.

        I chose to travel solo, because that’s what I do, which was another point I tried making by showing others it’s not always a great idea to do so. Me returning home because I was almost shoved into the car of the reputable place I thought I booked with was my decision and it is something I’m glad I did. I made it home, made more travel plans, and left a week later.

        If it matters, I am planning on returning. But this time with a group. If that makes me a “yank,” then let it be.

  17. Hi, I’m from Oman, which is a quite safe country. My cousin, who is from Oman too, went to South Africa. But, once he reached there, he was told not to take a certain route as crimes had just taken place. Even though he was not alone, but he was horrified and immediately took a flight back!

    • Mehdi,

      That’s awful! I’m sure if you use precaution and stay on the routes you should stick to, things will be fine. I’m also sure if I had left the airport, I would have not had any further issues; I just was so frustrated and scared from what happened I didn’t want to be alone for two months.

      No matter how far the travels, whether it be one hour or two days, it’s a shame that incidents happen to make someone who was so excited about going, turn around and think twice. However, I would say it was a good thing your cousin left rather than continue and be uncomfortable or scared.

      On another note, I’ve never talked to someone from Oman before! One day I’d love to travel that way and see Oman and then head over to Dubai πŸ™‚

  18. wow, im South African and have been living in South Korea for the past two years- went home for a vacation and was surprised at how helpful the people at the airport were….I lost my passport and they tried to help me find it! I’m super careful with my stuff I’m a timid looking Indian girl-but if anyone asked to take my stuff I very sternly told them I didn’t need their help. I’m so sorry you had a terrible experience!

    • I know it’s not a common thing to happen to each and every person traveling though Johannesburg airport. But, for whatever reason it was, I just had a terrible experience! It’s good to know that others, such as yourself, get the assistance and help from people when needed though. Hopefully my next trip there will be completely opposite πŸ™‚

  19. Wow, your story brought back some scary memories for me. I’m glad your safe, always trust your heart and instincts πŸ™‚

  20. My palms are sweaty and my heart is racing just reading about your experience. How dreadful!

  21. So sorry you had a bad experience in Johannesburg…I think the people at the airport there are more agressive than in other places,I have been to South Africa a few times and love it, though definitely I would not travel anywhere in Africa on my own. hope you get back some day.

    • It definitely made me appreciative of LAX, even though I’ve said how much I hated it (especially clearing our customs).

      I was surprised at the extent of security I had to go through. I’ve never seen an airport evacuate all passengers waiting at a gate, do an entire security sweep of swabbing and scanning, pat-down and re-check all travel documents and then re-check baggage, turning the gate into a sterile area. In one way it makes me feel more safe, as I don’t have an issue with more airport security. On the other, it was a little overkill, especially to the extent they were searching others.

      Thanks, Joan!

  22. Wow what a dreadful experience and not a true reflection of our country. You were targeted from the moment you stepped out the gate. I cannot believe even the officials ( security and sales ) did not help you. I am South African and I’ve gone through OR Tambo ( JHB ) alone, my girlfriend’s done it many times and my brother who works in Russia does it all the time. We were shocked to hear this.

    As a tourist you are targeted and the only way to start changing this is to report it http://www.acsa.co.za/home.asp?pid=61

    FreeCall: 0800 00 80 80
    FreeFax: 0800 00 77 88
    Email: acsa@tip-offs.com
    Website:www.tip-offs.com

    Blow your top get angry they had no right to do that and make sure you expose the officials that were supposed to do their job. As a South African my hard earned tax money goes to keeping these places and institutions safe and in order.

    Please make a difference you could stop this from happening to someone else.

  23. My rule when traveling through the Johannesburg airport, is to be really aggressive, refuse to engage anyone in conversation, walk fast and with purpose, and don’t let anyone lay a hand on your luggage. They have no right to touch it or you uninvited. Of course this is easy for me to say because I am a guy. If I have my kids with me, I get even more aggressive! Sorry you had that experience.

    • I couldn’t imagine traveling through with kids. Now that I think about it, I didn’t see many travelers with kids passing through at all.

      I think that after I had the bad feeling with the “driver” I was scared and I let it show. There’s no other way to explain all the things that happened other than I let myself become a target.

      But hey, you live and you learn, right?!

      Thanks, Mark!

  24. I’m so sorry that this was your experience of South Africa. It shames us and makes me angry. I’m glad you trusted your gut instincts and hope you will return one day to experience the many great things about this country.

    • Ryan,

      Although it was bad it definitely did NOT change my views on the good people and places of the country. Every city has bad, especially here in Los Angeles. I just had really bad luck finding it all in one stop, and learned I’m not tougher than SA crime (although I thought I was… I’m one feisty little person… Think of a chihuahua…).

      I will be back! And I’ll have amazing stories to tell next time πŸ™‚

  25. As an experienced world traveller including some of the less peacful areas of Africa and Asia. I have to agree with your decision to not travel around SA alone. It sounds like you were the focus of a collection of scamers wanting your money and possessions. It’s hard to reject the information you’re given and say no but necessary at times.

    I’ve travelled to JHB several times and it has improved since before the world cup, but despite numerous trips to Congo, Nigeria, Egypt, Brazil, Kazakhstan etc my first time there I too was scammed by a “porter” and the phrase “any currency” in your blog struck a chord in particular.

    South Aftica is a stunning country and a great place to visit and live. It has it’s problems as although apparently safer than many other african nations, poverty and the crime problems this can bring are still widespread. I hope you get to visit SA again and see the better aspects than feel threatened as I’ve always enjoyed my trips there.

    Safe Travels

    • Steve,

      Wow! You’ve been all over! (And Congo? That’s some serious stuff right there.)

      I will for sure make it back one day, just not alone. One thing I realized that the box I had seemed to be the one item getting the most attention, as it was the main focus of my harassment. It makes me wonder if I wouldn’t have brought it if I would’ve had an easier time. It’s definitely something I’d rather not have a guess at though, and next time I won’t be bringing anything like it with me.

      It’s also sad that numerous people observe these things happening to tourists yet no one jumps in to stop them; I think that bothered me more than what I encountered myself.

  26. I am so happy you are back safe.
    So proud of you and all your courage. Your good heart had all the right intentions. Just so glad you’re home πŸ™‚

  27. HORRIBLE! So glad you made it home. Did they get away with any of your luggage/valuables too?!!!!

  28. I for one am so glad you are home and safe, there is nothing to replace that gut feeling .
    With international kidnapping of young women happening everywhere, even Britain, you just have to listen. You did good , you made it home and you are safe. God Bless the universe for intervening. My lovely goddaughter, I could just see , your mother and me tearing that place apart looking for you, I just thank God, and all the spirits, for your safe return.

  29. WOW, THATS TERRIBLE, I dont know what else to say right now, except im glad your home safe.

  30. Jeez, sorry to hear about your experience and so right in trusting your instincts. I’m South African, living in Mozambique – and often come into contact with folk hitching around Africa. Travelling solo in Africa does make you vulnerable, especially if you’re not familiar with the country and even more so if you’re a woman. If you’re solo, your only friend is instinct. I do hope you come back to South Africa one day – in general, South Africans are big on their hospitality and will cringe at hearing your story. Thank-you for sharing it.

    • Thanks for your feedback; it’s nice to hear encouraging words from someone who lives there. I was really hoping to meet and spend time with amazing people, and it’s a shame that some of my only impressions were of those looking to do bad. I will DEFINITELY make it back again some day.. I KNOW there is more good there than bad, and I will experience it soon!

  31. Anne Poole // April 6, 2013 at 11:14 pm // Reply

    Jenn, So sorry to hear about you scarey encounters at the airport in South Africa. You were smart not to go with the fake shuttle driver. It terrifies me to think of what might have happened to you had you not gone with your instincts! I’m very happy that you are safe & back in the USA! I pray that one day you will return for a visit to South Africa with at least one companion! Blessings to “The Bean” and I am sure will be roaming again soon!

  32. Bean I’m so very happy you trusted your instincts and made it home safely. That could have turned out really bad. I hope that you make it back someday with you LARGE group and you can see all of its beauty! Now that you have time off I can come visit you! Once again I’m glad you’re okay!

  33. Susan Henning // April 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm // Reply

    Glad that you are home safely.

  34. you did the right thing wow what a story dont feel bad always go with your gut thank god your ok

    • It’s hard not to feel bad; I hate feeling like I let someone down, especially the people who invested time into me and sponsored my travels. But I am very happy I followed my instincts. Thank you πŸ™‚

  35. Holy Crap Jen. I had a minor anxiety attack just reading what happened. What a living nightmare that was for you! You are a very strong woman and I am glad you were able to handle yourself in a very very uncomfortable and potentially life threatening situation.
    Very happy to read you are home safe!! And thanks Mom & Dad for getting Jen home fast!!

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