Many young students yearn to travel the globe. For some, scrimping and saving can allow them the opportunity to go on an epic adventure. Of course, traveling in style when you’re so young doesn’t always happen, and that’s why most students opt to go backpacking instead.
When one woman from Amsterdam decided to backpack through Southeast Asia, she couldn’t have been more excited. She told everyone her plans and stayed in constant contact with them. However, they would soon discover that she’d been lying to them the entire time…
Zilla van den Born, a 25-year-old Dutch student, made an important decision. She decided that she needed to recalibrate, and in order to do so, she was going to take time off from school and backpack around Southeast Asia for five weeks.
The plucky adventurer was set to depart on April 23, 2014. In the days leading up to her trip, she shared pictures of her packing on social media. Though Zilla would be away for over a month, the plan was just to bring the bare minimum in her bags.
On the morning of her flight out of the country, her parents accompanied her to the train that would officially mark the start of her adventure. Before Zilla boarded, she made sure to hand her parents her itinerary so they would always know where she was.
Zilla’s parents were sad to see their daughter leave them—and the safety of their country—for such a long period of time, but they were also excited for her. This was such an amazing opportunity and they knew she would have the adventure of a lifetime.
During her 42-day adventure, Zilla would explore Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Once she was at the airport, she continued to share photographs, including one of her passport and some taken in the airport terminal.
Zilla then texted her parents to let them know that she was boarding the plane and that she would let them know the minute she landed. Fourteen hours later, true to her word, she reached out to let her parents know she’d arrived. All seemed normal, right?
As soon as Zilla settled into her first location—a hotel in Thailand—she reached out to her parents and arranged a Skype call. She showed them the room and talked to them about the temples she visited and the food she ate.
This pattern continued when Zilla left Thailand and moved on to Cambodia and Laos. She would Skype her family, show them her hotel room, and talk to them about all the other backpackers she met during her travels.
In addition to sharing time on Skype with her family, Zilla seemed eager to get out of her hotel and explore these countries. She would often post photos of her various adventures on social media for her friends and family to enjoy.
From swimming in beautiful blue waters to visiting ancient temples, Zilla happily shared her entire trip with the world. For her family and friends, it was almost as if they were taking the adventure with her. This feeling, however, wouldn’t last…
Zilla’s incredible photographs painted such an unbelievable picture of her various travels that it was only natural that her friends who were still in school became suspicious. They became envious about her adventures.
While it seemed like Zilla was living the dream and traveling the globe, she was actually deceiving them all. In reality, everything she posted on social media and told her family was a giant lie!
The truth was that Zilla had never even left the country in the first place! Instead of traveling to Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, the young woman was still in Amsterdam where she’d always been…
For 42 days, Zilla had simply stayed in her apartment, conning everyone she knew. When she had to leave to buy essentials, like groceries, she would don an elaborate disguise just to make sure that no one who knew her would recognize her.
In order to pull off her epic scam, Zilla spent much of her time editing images and manipulating them so that it appeared she was visiting places that she’d never seen before. They were pretty convincing, too. But Zilla had a good reason for her trick…
The reason for this ruse? Zilla was an artist who had an idea for a totally original project. “The inspiration for this project came from combining my two passions together: photo manipulation and traveling,” Zilla said. “I wanted to prove how easily reality gets distorted.”
Zilla spared no expense and put herself through the wringer to achieve the result she wanted. She would wake up in the middle of the night to chat with her family, and she would spend a lot of money transforming her apartment to look like different South Asian hotel rooms.
For all 42 days, the only person who really knew where Zilla was and what she was up to was her boyfriend. While she told everyone the truth at the end of the project, to say that say her friends and family were confused—and hurt—by her actions would be an understatement.
“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media,” Zilla said of her experiment. “Thereby we create an online ideal world which reality can no longer meet. My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality.”
Zilla was happy with the project, but she realized only after the fact that it would really hurt the people she loved. “If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would,” Zilla said. “I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me!”