Real Life: My Holiday was all a Hoax

Student faked five weeks of travelling south-east Asia on Facebook and Twitter
ByLauren SteadmanSaturday , 18 October 2014
Real Life: My Holiday was all a Hoax
© Image license supplied to Caters from source

Dutch student spent five weeks ‘travelling’ around south-east Asia without ever leaving her home! Zilla Van Den Born, 25, fooled her family and friends into thinking she was exploring Thailand, Cambodia and Laos by mocking up pics of exotic food and ancient tourist spots. After waving goodbye to her relatives at the airport, she nipped straight back home and began to fabricate the bogus backpacking trip from her living room.

Zilla skyped her parents while sitting beside strategically placed fairy lights and an Oriental-style parasol – all from the comfort of her sofa. She also sent texts in the middle of the night so they’d think she was in a different time zone. The reason? The project was all part of her university coursework to demonstrate that social media doesn’t always reflect the truth. “My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality,” says Zilla. “I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media.”

Pictures of her snorkelling with tropical fish were taken at a local swimming pool and digitally altered; she also photoshopped herself onto tuk-tuks, beautiful beaches and luxury resorts in the 42 days she spent hidden in her Amsterdam apartment. Only her boyfriend was in the know.

Elaborate Trick
Zilla, who’s now a freelance graphic designer, took photos inside tropical aquariums, went to a butterfly garden, bought Asian souvenirs from the market and cooked Thai meals in her kitchen. She spent time in tanning booths to get a sun-kissed glow and even sent postcards – no one noticed the postmarks were local. 

The ruse was only revealed when she confessed all to her family and friends while filming their shocked reactions. She’s also put together a book chronicling her adventure, featuring the pictures before and after they were altered. When scanned with the augmented reality app Layar, the snaps’ raw versions are revealed.

“We create an online ideal world that reality can no longer match up to,” says Zilla. “Everybody knows that pictures of models are manipulated but we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality in our own lives as well.”

She adds: “A picture is perhaps one of the most layered and contradictory objects that we can see around us. It represents the reality, but also falsehood – it’s a fact, but also an opinion; it’s technology, but also an art form. There is a constant battle going on between the two considerations – the photographed object being as beautiful as possible, and it telling the truth.

“What a picture really shows is not the exact situation as it really was, but what it represents,” says Zilla. “This ambiguous relationship with reality is what makes photography so fascinating to me. It raises questions about the representative power of pictures and about reality itself.” 

Top 3 Celeb pranksters

On New Year’s Eve 1999, Brad played on panic about the Y2K millennial IT meltdown. He hosted a party on a Mexican resort and arranged for power and phone lines in the vicinity to be cut, making guests fear the end of the world was nigh.

From false wake-up calls to tipping cold water over his costars, Clooney’s mischief-making is legendary. He once stole Matt Damon’s clothes and had them shrunk to make him think he’d gained weight.

While hosting hit MTV show Punk’d, Ashton played tricks on fellow stars while filming them with hidden cameras. In one memorable episode, Justin Timberlake was reduced to tears after being told his home was about to be repossessed.

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