My 30 Best Travel Tips After 4 Years Traveling The World

Favorite Travel Tips

My Best Tips for World Travel

Travel Tips

It’s now been 4 years since I sold everything and left the United States to travel the world. These are the best travel tips I’ve discovered along the way.

It all started when I took a one-way flight from Miami to Guatemala City, leaping nervously into the unknown and leaving much of my old life behind while embarking on an epic travel adventure around the world.

It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned a lot since I first left. To celebrate my 4 year “travelversary”, I’ve decided to share a collection of my best and most useful travel tips to help inspire you to make travel a priority in your life.

Feel free to share your own best travel tips at the end!

1. Patience Is Important

Don’t sweat the stuff you can’t control. Life is much too short to be angry & annoyed all the time. Did you miss your bus? No worries, there will be another one. ATMs out of money? Great! Take an unplanned road trip over to the next town and explore. Sometimes freakouts happen regardless.

Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that it could be worse.

2. Wake Up Early

Rise at sunrise to have the best attractions all to yourself while avoiding crowds. It’s also a magical time for photos due to soft diffused light, and usually easier to interact with locals. Sketchy areas are less dangerous in the morning too. Honest hardworking people wake up early; touts, scammers, and criminals sleep in.

Favorite Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Laugh at Yourself

3. Laugh At Yourself

You will definitely look like a fool many times when traveling to new places. Rather than get embarrassed, laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to screw up, and don’t take life so seriously.

Once a whole bus full of Guatemalans laughed with glee when I forced our driver to stop so I could urgently pee on the side of the road. Returning to the bus and laughing with them gave me new friends for the remainder of the journey.

4. Stash Extra Cash

Cash is king around the world. To cover your ass in an emergency, make sure to stash some in a few different places. I recommend at least a couple hundred dollars worth. If you lose your wallet, your card stops working, or the ATMs run out of money, you’ll be glad you did.

Some of my favorite stash spots include socks, under shoe inserts, a toiletry bag, around the frame of a backpack, even sewn behind a patch on your bag. Oh, and make sure you have a good travel banking system setup too.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Meet Local People

5. Meet Local People

Make it a point to avoid other travelers from time to time and start conversations with local people. Basic English is spoken widely all over the world, so it’s easier to communicate with them than you might think, especially when you combine hand gestures and body language. Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting.

People enrich your travels more than sights do.

6. Pack A Scarf

I happen to use a shemagh, but sarongs work great too. This simple piece of cotton cloth is one of my most useful travel accessories with many different practical applications. It’s great for sun protection, a makeshift towel, carrying stuff around, an eye mask, and much more.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Observe Daily Life

7. Observe Daily Life

If you really want to get a feel for the pulse of a place, I recommend spending a few hours sitting in a park or on a busy street corner by yourself just watching day to day life happen in front of you.

Slow down your thoughts and pay close attention to the details around you. The smells, the colors, human interactions, and sounds. It’s a kind of meditation — and you’ll see stuff you never noticed before.

8. Back Everything Up

When my laptop computer was stolen in Panama, having most of my important documents and photos backed up saved my ass. Keep both digital and physical copies of your passport, visas, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, serial numbers, and important phone numbers ready to go in case of an emergency.

Backup your files & photos on an external hard drive as well as online with software like Backblaze.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Take Lots of Photos

9. Take Lots Of Photos

You may only see these places & meet these people once in your lifetime. Remember them forever with plenty of photos. Don’t worry about looking like a “tourist”. Are you traveling to look cool? No one cares. Great photos are the ultimate souvenir.

They don’t cost anything, they’re easy to share with others, and they don’t take up space in your luggage. Just remember once you have your shot to get out from behind the lens and enjoy the view.

10. There’s Always A Way

Nothing is impossible. If you are having trouble going somewhere or doing something, don’t give up. You just haven’t found the best solution or met the right person yet. Don’t listen to those who say it can’t be done.

Perseverance pays off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told what I want isn’t possible, only to prove it wrong later when I don’t listen to the advice and try anyway.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Smile & Say Hello

11. Smile & Say Hello

Having trouble interacting with locals? Do people seem unfriendly? Maybe it’s your body language. One of my best travel tips is to make eye contact and smile as you walk by. If they smile back, say hello in the local language too. This is a fast way to make new friends.

You can’t expect everyone to just walk around with a big stupid grin on their face. That’s your job. Usually all it takes is for you to initiate contact and they’ll open up.

12. Splurge A Bit

I’m a huge fan of budget travel, as it lets you travel longer and actually experience more of the fascinating world we live in rather than waste money on stuff you don’t need. You can travel many places for $30 a day with no problems.

That said, living on a shoestring gets old after a while. It’s nice (and healthy) to go over your budget occasionally. Book a few days at a nice hotel, eat out at a fancy restaurant, or spend a wild night on the town.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Keep an Open Mind

13. Keep An Open Mind

Don’t judge the lifestyles of others if different from your own. Listen to opinions you don’t agree with. It’s arrogant to assume your views are correct and other people are wrong. Practice empathy and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Embrace different possibilities, opportunities, people, suggestions and interests. Ask questions. You don’t have to agree, but you may be surprised what you’ll learn.

14. Try Couchsurfing is a large online community of travelers who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. If you truly want to experience a country and it’s people, staying with a local is the way to go.

There are millions of couchsurfers around the world willing to host you and provide recommendations. It’s fun and safe too. Expensive hotels are not the only option, there are all kinds of cheap travel accommodation options out there.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Volunteer Occasionally

15. Volunteer Occasionally

Make it a point to volunteer some of your time for worthwhile projects when traveling. Not only is it a very rewarding experience, but you’ll often learn more about the country and its people while also making new friends.

There’s a great site called Grassroots Volunteering where you can search for highly recommended volunteer opportunities around the world.

16. Pack Ear Plugs

This should actually be #1 on the list. I love my earplugs! Muffle the sounds of crying babies, drunk Australians, barking dogs, honking horns, dormitory sex, natural gas salesmen, and more. A traveler’s best friend. These are my favorite earplugs for comfort & effectiveness.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Don’t Be Afraid

17. Don’t Be Afraid

The world is not nearly as dangerous as the media makes it out to be. Keep an eye out for sketchy situations but don’t let that be the focus of your whole trip. Use common sense and you’ll be ok. Most people are friendly, trustworthy, generous, and willing to help you out.

This goes for women too. I realize I’m not a woman, but I’ve met plenty of experienced female travelers who agree.

18. Get Lost On Purpose

If you want to see the parts of town where real people live & work, you need to go visit them. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing where you’re going. Write down the name of your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Don’t worry too much about stumbling into dangerous neighborhoods either, as locals will generally warn you before you get that far.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Eat Local Food

19. Eat Local Food

Think you already know what Mexican food tastes like? You’re probably wrong. Taste a bit of everything when you travel, especially if you don’t know what it is. Ask local people for recommendations. Eat street food from vendors with big lines out front.

I’ve been very sick only twice in my travels. Don’t be scared of the food.

20. Say Yes Often

Be impulsive and say yes when someone randomly invites you to meet their family, try a new activity, or explore a place you didn’t know existed. It’s these unexpected and unplanned situations that add spice to your travels and always turn into the best stories later.

Accept the kindness of strangers when you travel — you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Slow Down

21. Slow Down

Please don’t try to cram 6 countries into 6 weeks of travel. All the good stuff happens when you really take the time to explore. You’ll learn about activities that aren’t in your guidebook and meet people who are eager to show you around.

I can honestly say that NONE of my best travel experiences happened within the first few days of arriving somewhere. Spend more time in fewer places for maximum enjoyment.

22. Keep Good Notes

My memory for details sucks. When I first started traveling the world 4 years ago, I didn’t keep a good journal, and now I’m regretting it.

Information like the names of people I met, conversations I had, feelings about a new experience, or what a particular town smelled like. If you ever want to write about your travels, these details are handy.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

23. Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Challenge yourself to try things that normally give you anxiety. The more you do this, the more that anxiety will fade away. Not a hiker? Go on more hikes. Have trouble talking to strangers? Talk to everyone. Scared of weird food? Eat the weirdest thing you can find.

The reason this works so well while traveling is because everything is already so different, what’s one more new/uncomfortable experience?

24. Don’t Plan Too Much

I cringe when readers ask how many days they should spend in a particular country or city. The truth is I have no idea what you’ll enjoy or who you’ll meet. I thought I’d rocket through Nicaragua in a week or two, but ended up living there for 4 months.

My advice is to pick a starting point, 1 or 2 must-do activities, and an ending point (or not). Then just let the universe determine the rest.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Pack Less Stuff

25. Pack Less Stuff

You don’t need 1/2 the gear you think you do to travel anywhere. We’ve all done it. It’s a right of passage for travelers to slowly become better at packing less. My first backpack was 70 liters packed full, my current bag is only 38 liters.

As a full-time vagabond, everything I own fits on my back. If you’re not sure about packing something, you don’t need it. It’s also possible to buy most things at your destination country if you discover you need them.

26. Listen To Podcasts

Podcasts are awesome. It’s like creating your own personal radio station and filling it with shows and music you always want to listen to. I never thought I’d actually look forward to a 10 hour bus ride. But with podcasts, it’s possible (well, as long as the seats are comfortable).

Time will fly by as you listen to incredible storytelling, fun music, or interviews with experts. Here are some of my favorites: This American Life, The Moth, RISK!, Radiolab, Smart Passive Income, and Electro-Swing.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Treat Your Body Well

27. Treat Your Body Well

Travel can throw your body out of whack. When you’re moving from place to place it’s difficult to maintain a workout routine, and many of us slack off. Or we don’t sleep enough. Or we eat too many cupcakes. I’m guilty of not flossing my teeth.

Remember to be nice to your body. Get enough sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, use sunscreen, and exercise often (check out this bodyweight routine, no gym required!). And, yes, flossing too I guess.

28. Stay In Touch

Remember to call your family & friends from time to time. Maybe surprise them and go old-school by sending a postcard (it’s in the mail, Mom!). Travel isn’t lonely, far from it. You constantly meet other people. But many of those relationships are fleeting. So maintaining a strong connection with the people who know you best is important.

My Best Travel Tips

Travel Tip: Get Off the Beaten Path

29. Get Off The Beaten Path

I know it’s cliché, but you should still attempt it. Seek out interesting and unusual places that don’t see much tourism. Many memorable travel experiences have happened to me in areas that are not easy to visit. By all means travel to popular sites, but don’t rule out other locations just because they’re not on the tourist trail.

Although please realize that just because an area is remote or dangerous doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a life-changing experience.

30. Travel More

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the past 4 years, it’s that many people back home love to tell me how lucky I am while making excuses why they can’t travel. It’s too expensive. They can’t get time off work. Who will feed their pets?

When I suggest solutions to these “problems”, they still don’t take action. Why? Because they’re often hiding behind the true reason: they’re scared.

Unfortunately most people who wait to travel the world never do.

You don’t need to sell all your worldly possessions and become a homeless vagabond like me. Just get out there more than you do now. Start with a weekend in a different state. Then maybe try a week in the country next door.

The new car, remodeling project, and iPhone can wait. If you truly want to travel more, you can make it happen. Career breaks are possible. You have friends who would love to watch your pets.

It’s a big, beautiful, exciting, and fascinating world out there. Explore some of it now, rather than later. ★

Travel More

How to Travel the World

Travel The World

Want to know how to travel the world? I’ve put together a huge page full of useful world travel resources that should point you in the right direction. Learn how I fund my adventures, how to find cheap accommodation, how to save money for travel, start a travel blog, and more.

READ NEXT: Useful Budget Travel Resources

What are some of your favorite travel tips?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.


Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 4 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions


  1. sadeq
    May 30, 2015

    hi man
    i am so glad that about your information in trip and its necessary to each person that want to travel to each part of the world.i can,t travel to every place .the reason is government .but i hope that one day i see travel to iran .it,s a good ,beautiful and cheap place for traviling! have a good time!
    with best wishes

  2. Ashley
    May 29, 2015

    There are some really great tips here. I agree with most. I especially like the comments about other’s excuses. People always tell me, “God if I had the opportunities you do…” I never can figure out what makes me so different as far as those are concerned. Except for the fact that I take the time to buy the plane or bus ticket, and sometimes choose that instead of a new cell phone or shopping spree.

    If you want to travel, just do it, worry about the other stuff later.

  3. Thomas Robertson
    May 28, 2015

    This is such a great, diverse list of tips! What would you say is the most under rated tip on this list?

  4. Jackie Sullivan
    May 27, 2015

    So many great tips, even as a family travelling I can still relate to so many of them. Getting off the beaten path is always a goal of ours, it can be a challenge at times, so I’ll be searching your blogs for extra tips. Our children tend to break the ice wherever they go, as they are not shy, so making friends and chatting to the locals is very easy. Although I have found the locals are not as friendly in more touristy areas, and it is tougher to get a smile out of them… Do you find this too?
    Also love your suggestion regarding Backblaze, I have been trying to decide on the best backup for a while now, this definitely looks like a great option.
    We are currently staying near Lake Arenal in Costa Rica atm, do you have any tips on places to visit that are less touristy? I’ll be searching through your blogs later anyway, and taking your advise on ‘getting lost’ today, who knows what we will find.
    Thanks again for such a great article, Jackie

  5. Darby
    May 27, 2015

    In Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy they say to always bring a towel, but I do believe that scarves are superior to towels. You can wrap them around your head without them falling off. Good advice.

  6. Jae
    May 25, 2015

    Matthew, it’s great tips! I totally agree with your real practical advice! Nowadays, my travel bag is lighter and lighter. And I’m thinking I’ll convert to the back pack( not a big one), so my hands can move freely. Always, looking for zipper short pants. More travel more want to go out explore the world!

  7. Jane
    May 25, 2015

    Hi Matthew
    I quit my job and I set off once I was 50. I have been travelling for 2 years now and I LOVE this article.
    Every single point is spot on.
    And despite not agreeing with it, I went to a cockfight in Colombia. I wanted to know about all aspects of the culture and as you put it, to learn why some things are acceptable to others. Safe travels, Jane

  8. Ben Jamin
    May 24, 2015

    You can tell you have been traveling for a while as what you say is very true. Some good advice here keep it up

  9. Monika
    May 24, 2015

    I just have to agree with all of those items on the list! I must say I haven´t tried everything, but I know I will…eventually :) Great tips :)
    Recent Post: Bloggers Share: Best Piece of Travel Advice We Got

  10. Anthony
    May 23, 2015

    Matthew, I feel totally jelaous… Even though I’m only going to be 19 in a few days, I’ve set up a diary of places I’m planning to visit! Yet there are a couple of obstacles.. I have to finish the university, get a well paid job and yeah, that is gonna take some time. (I’ve got no money whatsoever). But I love the way you do things and it is actually the same how I want to progress! Just sit in the plane or a car and drive away wherever my driving skills will lead me to :) You’re my inspiration, sir. Thank you!

  11. Hendrik
    May 16, 2015

    I wish I could go to Milan, Italy to watch my favorite football team playing on the field. Someday maybe……….
    Recent Post: 10 Most Favorite Travel Destinations in Banyuwangi, East Java, Indonesia

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      Milan is a wonderful city! Unfortunately I never had a chance to watch a game there.

  12. Carl
    May 12, 2015

    Good suggestions. I’d add to try and give the local language a go. Even if you mess up and are completely incomprehensible it often serves an ice breaker, and local appreciate the effort.

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      Exactly. Locals appreciate that you’re trying. Well, most do. I generally try to learn about 10 of the most common words, which is usually enough to get by. Trying to learn every language for every country is just not practical if you travel a lot.

  13. Taralynn Reynolds
    May 5, 2015

    I love this article but really wish there wasn’t a photo of cockfighting included. I’m all for being open minded while traveling but supporting abuse of animals is not something I’d consider attending ever, anywhere. There’s a reason why these activities are illegal here. Please consider changing that out.

    • Mads
      May 19, 2015

      I completely understand your view and agree(kind of). But what you think is animal abuse, might not be considered the same in another place. After all, two males battling to the bitter end isn’t that rare in nature either :-)

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      You’re missing the point Taralynn. I’m not supporting animal abuse, I’m just showing the reality of a different culture. You don’t have to agree with it, but I’m suggesting you take the time to learn more about it rather than making blind assumptions. Because things like this aren’t as black & white as they seem.

      Yes, there is a reason why it’s illegal here. But there are also reasons why it’s accepted there.

  14. ivy kriste
    May 5, 2015

    I think keeping a hard copy of your tips will be an added advantage for a solo traveler. Thanks for the inspiring tips.

  15. bryaph
    April 29, 2015

    Hey :) I loved your post! I will read it more often until I start. My trip around the world will start next year, first I will have to earn some money.. But I’m really thankful for all of that tipps you get in the internet! Thanks for what you’ve wrote, I liked your points :)

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      That’s the hardest part, saving money for your trip. But keep reading travel blogs for tips & inspiration to keep you on track! That’s what I did when I was first starting.

  16. Ale
    April 28, 2015

    Hi! Matthew. You rock with your post, I love the words and the so upbeat ideas you just shared. I can’t wait to see the world again next month, will be travelling to Hong Kong and probably try these profuse advice.

  17. Steven
    April 27, 2015

    GREAT great article. I just bought my flight ticket to Colombia a few days ago and after reading this, I’m more excited than ever! Thanks for the useful tips!

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      Awesome Steven! Have fun in Colombia, I still haven’t been, but keep hearing great things about it!

  18. kenny
    April 25, 2015

    Hi matthew
    i am sorry i have never travelled out of my country nigeria..So i dont know if i can join u in any of your trip, it sounds funny but i mean it.

  19. Kiran A B
    April 25, 2015

    Thank you Matthew for these tips. I would like to start traveling like you, meet many nice people and explore the world. Your 30 tips are definitely going to be of lots of help. Thank you.

  20. Jessica Lane
    April 22, 2015

    Great post Matthew- Solo travel scares a lot of people understandably particularly trusting strangers with couchsurfing etc. How do you fight through the initial fears to even begin travelling like yourself?

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      It was scary for me at first too. I still remember my first local bus ride in Mexico, when it broke down and I couldn’t understand the language, or what was going on. Embrace your fear, and conquer the challenges one step at a time.

      I like to remind myself that many others have already done most of these things before me. So it can’t be that bad! If they can do it, so can I.

  21. Christy
    April 21, 2015

    I waited until I was in my 40’s before I stopped making excuses and just started going where I wanted, all on my own. I have so much more to see and I can’t wait!
    Thanks for a great list/article.

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      You’re never too old to head out and explore the world Christy! I’ve met great people in their 70’s staying at backpacker hostels.

      I hope when I’m that old I’ll be just as fun as them!

  22. Michael D
    April 20, 2015

    Hey Matthew,
    I have done loads of travelling and your post is spot on. Great advice!

  23. Lynn
    April 20, 2015

    This is a great post with great content!

    My husband & I are going to set off on a 6 month journey around the world this fall & can’t wait.

  24. Bilal-Abdullah
    April 15, 2015

    Hi Mathew, I am a big travelling and culture geek. I have been collecting books and articles on different cultures and countries since I was 7 years old. I don’t want to be rich or famous, but surely do want to travel the world. Your answers to these questions or “Links” that can answer these questions and save you botheration are much appreciated- to help me and viewers in making big plans of world travel. You could always use my email, too.
    How old are you now and how old were you when you started traveling- ( I am 27).
    How much have you spend during all these 4 years travel. (#1 important)
    what do you do if you get sick or injured in a foreign country.
    How do you manage if no one speaks English in another country.
    Do you require visa of every country you travel ( I am a U.S citizen).
    What countries have you travel till now.
    Any more ” Detailed” guide and suggestions on “traveling cheap” will be tremendously helpful ( I am a poor Ph.D student).

    • Matthew Karsten
      May 23, 2015

      Hi Bilal! I started traveling when I was 29, and spend an average of $1000-$1500 a month on travel. Less when I first started, more now. How much you spend depends on your travel style and where you’re traveling. Central America is much cheaper than Europe for example.

      I’ve been sick only a handful of times, here’s a post about when I got Dengue Fever in Mexico. It sucks to be on your own when you’re sick, but doesn’t happen often.

      Every country is different for visas. For United States citizens, you can find visa information at Travel.State.Gov. Some countries allow you to get a visa on arrival, others you need to apply for in advance.

  25. Howard Johnson
    April 15, 2015

    Intersting post…I am planning my trip to UK end of this year, then definitely I am gonna follow your post to make my trip a memorable one.

    Happy Travelling and keep posting

  26. Ebony
    April 13, 2015

    Thank you Mathew for your post! I love to travel and truly appreciated this. Its always interesting to see different takes from different travelers as they maneuver through their own personal travels. I will be bookmarking this page. Thanks again!

  27. Dila Mujo
    April 13, 2015

    Hai Matt.. Great Tips from you. I’m a solo traveler. I went to few countries and planning to quit my job and travel the world. Still working on my blogs and hope to finish it very soon.

    One question.. Were you in Thailand sometimes last month? Saw someone in Don Muaeng airport with no hair and filming with go-pro. After reading your blog and look at you gadjets that you bring, are you the guy that i saw in Thailand?

    • Matthew Karsten
      April 13, 2015

      Hi Dila, that’s funny! I was in Thailand last month, it very well could have been me. I was filming some stuff when I was there too. Good luck with your blog and future travels!

  28. rachel
    April 13, 2015

    very helpful tips, I saw your photo of cockfighting and wonder if it was from Philippines? Stunning photos of beautiful people and daily life from around the world.
    Recent Post: Remove this from your Bucket List, NOW

    • Matthew Karsten
      April 13, 2015

      That photo is from Nicaragua. But I can certainly hear the cockfighting matches here in the Philippines every Sunday…

  29. Conner
    April 10, 2015

    Thank you for the great article! It’ll come in handy in a few months when I travel (hopefully) to Europe for a couple months! Being only a freshman in college I lack a lot of international travel knowledge and your article will definitely help!

  30. Aaron
    April 9, 2015

    Great tips and advice, I am venturing out on my own travels in 5 weeks and need all the help I can get, I am such a newbie traveler and sometimes things can get quite overwhelming, this post has helped heaps, thanks.

  31. itchyfeet
    April 9, 2015

    Great Pointers! Started traveling 3 years ago 2x-3x a year. A few with guided tour and few backpacking trips with friends I met from travels. First time next month, going SOLO for a month to Spain-Portugal. Nervous but more excited. One thing I’ve learned from traveling, ive learned to live within my means and be less materialistic. In the words of my OZ friend, yolo that sh*t. =)

    • Matthew Karsten
      April 9, 2015

      Wooo! Congrats on trying it solo. Group travel is fun, but the challenge of going it on your own is a totally different experience.

      • Mariana Bobadilla
        May 7, 2015

        Beautiful blog.
        I would love take a year off and travel the world, but I think it’s easier for a man to go on his own that there’s for a woman. Do you have an input on this?
        I’ve been planning this for a year, i’m saving but I think what is holding me is to go on my own.

        Thank you for all the tips.



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