If I Planned My Trips The Way I Plan My Dates…

Somebody recently pointed out to me that travelling is a lot like courtship. It is best if you try not to burden the destination (or person, in the case of courting) with a lot of unrealistic expectations. To a great degree, I agree that going on a long journey is a lot like dating. The only difference here is that you travel not to decide whether you will stay at your destination forever, whereas the ideal motive of a well-intentioned date is to see if you indeed will marry that person. The best trips (and likewise, the best dates) are those where you don’t have a rigid bucket list or boxes that need to be ticked. You begin with an open mind and discover the beauty of the unknown, slowly unfolding before you.

Should You Complain When The Going Gets Tough?

I hope I will not complain about muscle pain when I finally get to hike on the Bernese Alps.

I hope I will not complain about muscle pain when I finally get to hike on the Bernese Alps.

Before I went on my first multi-day snow trek in the Himalayas, I had an almost romantic view of trekking. I would think it was all about sleeping in pretty little tents, trudging up soft mounds of snow and looking pretty in 3 layers of winter-hiking gear. Then reality hit me like a hard slap on my face. The 70+ kilometres of walking in heavy shoes made my feet swell. When the terrain and view refused to change even after several hours of hiking, I forgot the very reason I had signed up for the trek. My peeling skin, rough hair and tanned face did not make me feel pretty anymore. But I rediscovered my joy when I realized I had pulled off the feat. Travelling, much like courtship, throws a lot of curveballs at us. While it is not a bad thing to complain, it certainly isn’t advisable to give up halfway.

The Worth of Simplicity

Will I be able to appreciate the simplicity of laidback European countryside?

Will I be able to appreciate the simplicity of laidback European countryside?

Sophistication seems to be the “in thing”, especially when it comes to luxury travel experiences. One cannot fall asleep until one knows the thread count of one’s sheets, one finds it hard to digest one’s meal if one isn’t sure the ingredients are organic, the pictures aren’t perfect till they have been varnished with filters. In my honest opinion, sophistication kills real beauty. When you let the real things just be, they are most beautiful. In the context of a soulmate, truth dwells in simplicity. External adornment may be attractive, but it is, after all, a lie.

Beyond What Meets The Eye

Journeys are more beautiful when you can see beyond your immediate surroundings.

Journeys are more beautiful when you can see beyond your immediate surroundings.

When I had first begun travelling solo, I would weigh everything at face value. If I was happy with the number of things I could see, activities I could participate in and the types of food I could eat, I would consider it a good trip. It is after years of being conditioned by long journeys that I have now become a different kind of traveller. I look to make memories, I travel slow, I talk to the locals more often and for much longer. I had contacts then. I have friends now. You may not find your date to be your potential mate at the very first meeting. But you will discover things you did not expect to find when you hang in there a little longer.

Appreciating The Little Joys Along The Way

Can you find your joy in small things? (Miniature Europe at Madurodam, Holland)

Can you find your joy in small things? (Miniature Europe at Madurodam, Holland)

If travelling is your way of getting a dose of that elusive medicine called “happiness”, then you would do well to enjoy the small things that most people think nothing of – a smiling stranger who helps you with your luggage, an extra dollop of butter on your aloo paratha, a softer bedspread than you had paid for. It is hard to be happy when your eyes are only trained on the flashy things that the billboards suggest you should lust after. So it is in matters of finding a partner. The lower your expectations are the happier you’ll be when you find absolutely anything of value in your companion.

Is It Tunnel-Vision Or Narrow-Mindedness?

There is no room for narrow mindedness, either in courtship or travel experiences, even when you cross the narrow canals of Venice.

There is no room for narrow-mindedness, either in courtship or travel experiences, even when you cross the narrow canals of Venice.

I have often come across travellers who will plan everything down to the very last detail (and that includes listing down which snack they will eat where). Then there are those who cannot stand alternate points of view or ways of doing things. Some may say that they have a tunnel-vision. But most hover dangerously close to being narrow-minded. Over planning and bucket listing have murdered the romance of travelling to a new place. We really need a culture of blind-travelling, like blind dating, where you have no idea of where you will go or what you will do even if you know where you’re going. My long trip to the USA taught me how interesting life can be when nothing is planned beforehand. #TheBlindList is a good idea to have a blind (travel) date with the world – a list without expectations.

The Best Ones Help You Rediscover Yourself

Trips are meaningful when they help you indulge in some self reflection.

Trips are meaningful when they help you indulge in some self-reflection.

Both places and life-partners play a part in helping you know yourself better. A trip worth making is one that will make you sit quietly and reflect on your life, your dreams, and where you’re headed. Likewise, a relationship is most fragrant when it makes you rethink who you are and how you serve your better half in the capacity of the other half. If our vacations are only making us busier than our workdays, we should be redesigning how we do them. There is a definite need for downtime, soul-searching and introspection.

When Things Don’t Work Out

Don't let a bad travel-date get you down. (I sulk after a particularly bad time in California.)

Don’t let a bad travel-date get you down. (I sulk after a particularly bad day in California.)

I’ve saved a vital piece of advice for the last. What happens when a long trip (or many months of dating) doesn’t end well? We must remember that travelling helps us discover a new place (and ourselves at the same time), just as dating helps us know whether a person is “the one”. The ending will only make things clear. And clarity is precious. We emerge wiser and better equipped for the next date, and to #SayYesToTheWorld on our next trip.

Do you still make bucket lists?

Wish to go on a blind-trip, knowing nothing about the destination?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more tips and insights on travelling around the world. This piece celebrates Lufthansa’s efforts to get more people to travel.

How To Make Friends When You Travel

I have been asked several times how I manage to endure my solo trips without anyone to talk to or hang out with. Also, a lot of readers curious to try travelling all by themselves ask me if there’s any way they can avoid feeling lonely. My simple answer to all such questions is I am never alone in any new place. I usually find a stranger to talk to, a group of hostellers to share a room with, or a warm family to share a meal with. There have been times when I’ve been all alone (in the worldly sense) on solo treks on abandoned hills. But there was still the shuffle of leaves, the chirp of an odd bird, and always, the presence of God.

Learn To Trust New People (Just As You Trust Your Instinct)

How long can one sail alone or only with those one has already known? (I watch tourists take a shikara ride in Kolkata's Prinsep Ghat)

How long can one sail alone or only with those one has already known? (I watch tourists take a shikara ride in Kolkata’s Prinsep Ghat)

I could tell you a hundred ways to meet new people, but you wouldn’t make a single friend if you are always wary of strangers or afraid to reveal anything about yourself. Friendships are forged when you make yourself available to conversations. Don’t always cuddle with a book or appear busy with your phone if you want to look approachable. And once a good Samaritan comes along and greets you, don’t instantly write him off as a characterless person out to cheat you. Trust a little, ask questions that help you get to know the person better, and also talk about your own self. Friendship is a two-way street. You can’t just take, take and take. You must learn to give.

Look For Things To Do With A New Group

Running together is a great way of making new friends!

Running together is a great way of making new friends!

I know so many people who would love to have a lot of friends but are too shy to initiate the conversations. For all of those shy or even introverted people, I’d suggest joining a group that does what you like to do. You will be in your comfort zone when it’s an activity you know, and yet have enough room to interact with people you are unfamiliar with. I personally find running an excellent way to connect with new people. Over the umpteen marathons I’ve run, I’ve made some amazing friends from different cities and continents. It doesn’t matter what you like to do – cycling, painting, cooking, hiking, shopping, or just about anything else. You can find people with similar interests and get those conversations started! The Cuddll app lets you create or join “cuddlls” which are informal social gatherings. You can also chat with other people joining the cuddll and plan for the meetup. Start by browsing through cuddlls based on the date, location or your interest.

Get Away From Your Phone. Get Back Into Real Life!

It's surprisingly easy to chat with a stranger when you need someone to take your picture. (In the great White Rann of Kutch)

It’s surprisingly easy to chat with a stranger when you need someone to take your picture. (In the great White Rann of Kutch)

A strange thing about our generation is how much we love to cling to our phones. We don’t mind chatting for hours as long as we don’t actually have to meet that person. And once we do, we don’t know what to talk about. The app market is full of silly dating apps that do very little to create trustworthy bonds and a lot to encourage casual flings, most of which only remain digital. Cuddll cuts through that clutter and keeps things clean. This is an app to make new friends and meet people in a safe way in groups. And you don’t just keep things virtual but actually go out there, meet and do what you signed up for! Another tip to make friends – ditch your phone once you’re with humans. Phones are very distracting with all of the pinging and ringing that interrupt conversations. You’ll realize you can have meaningful conversations when you truly listen to the people in your group with full concentration.

Cultivate Your Interests

Cooking together or even learning to cook is a beautiful way to connect with another person. (My new-found friend from the Koli tribe in the Maharashtrian village of Purushwadi)

Cooking together or even learning to cook is a beautiful way to connect with another person. (My new-found friend from the Koli tribe in the Maharashtrian village of Purushwadi)

I once had a friend who had no hobbies. (Yes, you read that right!) He would only go to work, come back home, and watch TV with the dinner his cook had prepared. He hated talking to people and found great comfort in being passive. I used to think he was naturally reticent and liked being that way. But he later told me he envied people who could do a lot of things, and he deliberately avoided interacting with anyone because they’d find out he was good at nothing. If you also suffer from similar thoughts, you could try addressing each shortcoming once by one. Don’t have a hobby? Learn something. Don’t know what you will like? Join different classes for a while and stay with the one you like. (That friend of mine later started learning to play the guitar and now also knows how to set up his own tent. He camps with strangers and prefers homestays over hotels for the warmth of the hosts.) The second part of the problem is inferiority complex. You don’t have to be the best at everything. And that’s precisely why you need to meet people who can do things better! You’ll enjoy being around amazing people when you stop worrying about what they think of you and instead focus on how you can learn from them.

Start From Where You Are

University campuses are still one of the best places to make friends for life. (The UPenn campus in Philly)

University campuses are still one of the best places to make friends for life. (The UPenn campus in Philly)

Lastly, you don’t have to be in a foreign land to begin making new friends. Start from your very own neighbourhood or your school campus. You may have spent several months and years walking past acquaintances and yet never had the afterthought to talk to them. Perhaps you could start your first “cuddll” in your backyard over a small boardgame or potluck dinner? Or if  you are a student, gather your classmates over a cricket match or plan a short trip to the mountains! Nature has a wonderful way of strengthening relationships and building trust.

Do you have any tips for making new friends?

Write your answers as comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more ideas on travelling and finding nice people on the way. Do share this piece with those who are afraid to get out of their friend circle and talk to new people!

How To Travel Smart And Stop Spending Unnecessarily

The biggest question travellers ask themselves is arguably “How do I stop myself from going bankrupt?” The rate at which most of us full-time travellers head overseas (read – Travelling Does Not Mean Saying Goodbye To Earnings) can be mind-boggling to most. Even if you don’t travel very frequently, today’s article on travelling smart will save you some precious bucks when you next jet off! Let’s start with the basics:-

#1: Hunt For Flights Before The Hunting Season

My Virgin Atlantic flight waits for me in London.

My Virgin Atlantic flight waits for me in London.

Last year, I clocked more air miles than the Managing Director of my erstwhile organization!! As crazy as that sounds, I probably spent less than 10% on the flights than he did. Your goal should be to plan early and keep scouting for good deals online before you rush to book. Join Mr. Rebates to get cash back on every purchase you make. Signing up is free and you will also get a $5 BONUS when you shop for the first time. Last minute flight bookings can be quite expensive, not to mention, stressful. And this is where a little bit of pre-planning comes in handy.

#2: Stay With Locals (If Hostels Are Not Your Thing)

Trips are better when your hotel/hostel feels like home.

Trips are better when your hotel/hostel feels like home.

I personally find hotels extremely boring and cold. So my favourite choices are homestays and hostels (read – Dorm Etiquette For Frequent Backpackers). I know, some of you don’t like the idea of sharing your room with strangers, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to shell out a bomb to live in a foreign country. Check out warm hosts on Airbnb or Couchsurfing. If you’d rather have your semi-luxurious stay at a hotel, save some extra bucks by using my referral link to make your hotel bookings through Mr. Rebates.

#3: Drive Down Instead of ‘Ubering’ Your Way

Driving down to Woodward Park in the USA.

Driving down to Woodward Park in the USA.

When I lived in India, radio taxis seemed so affordable. But that’s not the case in expensive countries such as USA. Taking Uber everywhere can burn a big hole in your pocket. If you are in a big city with a well connected public transport system (I love New York for this!), you are good. But what when you explore little hamlets with no humans in sight for several miles? That’s when it really helps to self-drive. Mr. Rebates has tie-ups with several car rental sites (Alamo Rent A Car, for instance) where you will actually be able to earn some cash back (into your Paypal account or opt for a check payment or a gift card) when you book your mean machine.

#4: Choose Your Food Haunts Wisely

Many of us tend to waste a lot of money eating trash at posh restaurants, without really trying out anything unique or local. Eating out takes a little bit of strategizing. You cannot just step out and randomly walk into a place, hoping to have your mind blown. It pays to know what you want and how much you are willing to pay. Do your research online on interesting places which offer experiences instead of just plating out food (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine). I was able to enjoy some live teppanyaki in California without paying through the nose just by picking a weekday afternoon instead of walking in for some a-la-carte on a Friday night.

#5: Shop When The Big Sales Are On

I have the Millerton Lake behind me on my drive to Friant in California.

I have the Millerton Lake behind me on my drive to Friant in California.

No matter how much you control yourself, you are bound to buy a bag full of nonsense on your next trip abroad (read – When A Traveller Takes A Holiday). Because it’s impossible to reign in your impulses, the least you can do is shop during shopping festivals or holiday seasons. I’m currently holidaying in The States and I think I’m going to need another suitcase just to fit all the stuff I bought on Black Friday!

Do you have any travel tips you’d like to share?

Are you guilty of spending unnecessarily on your vacations?

Write your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more pictures and tips on travelling like a pro. Do share this article with your friends who are planning their vacations!

Travelling Does Not Mean Saying Goodbye To Earnings

Most of the world has misgivings about the nomadic life. All through my new journey as a full-time travel blogger (read – For Travel Goals that are Long Term…), people have told me that my finances would dwindle – I would first live off my savings (from the corporate job that I’ve left), and then would be forced to swallow my pride and depend on my folks for my expenses, until of course, I’m married off to an unfortunate man who would have to bear the cost of my existence. I am writing today to show you the real story…

Setting My Priorities Straight

I cruised on the Vltava River in Prague without caring for the cost.

I cruised on the Vltava River in Prague without caring for the cost.

At the outset (when I was still with a conventional job), I had asked myself what really mattered to me – the myth of a stable income with occasional raises and bonuses or the opportunity to harness my full potential in a field that makes me cry with happiness. Contrary to the common man’s wish, I don’t think I’d want to cry in a BMW (read – Karjat in a BMW – A Road Trip to Remember!). I’d rather be smiling through a boat-ride! Once I knew what I was after, it was easy to figure out how I’d bring in the moolah.

Chasing Money Or Chasing A Dream?

It is more fun to chase peacocks than money!

It is more fun to chase peacocks than money!

The best thing about following your dream is that you are always excited about your work, irrespective of the money it fetches you. When your focus shifts away from riches, you start creating real value, and as a result, automatically begin to bring in the big bucks! The moment I stopped chasing money, I realized I could chase better things – a tiger hiding in the woods (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone), exotic birds in the wilderness (read – Why The Serai Bandipur Is Every Birdwatcher’s Paradise), a running goal in a lesser known country (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad)… Basically, I could chase my dreams!

Knowing The Tricks Of The Trade

The Trick Fountains in Austria

The Trick Fountains in Austria

Now, every craft has a technique (several techniques, honestly). Some ways work fabulously, some are not worth the effort. While you are pursuing your dream, experimenting with things that work and things that don’t, let your money do all the hard work! I’ll tell you my biggest bank-balance-secret today: my money works harder than I do! This sounds like a joke but often makes me giggle with glee at how affordable even the world’s most expensive countries are for me today. The stress and long work-hours apart, my 5-year long career in the investment banking industry has taught me a thing or two about investing wisely. Knowing the tricks of that trade has made it easier for me to make mistakes in my new trade (as a travel writer). Here’s how you can make your money work hard:-

Don’t Let Those Doors Be Shut

The rustic doors look inviting in Cooch Behar.

The rustic doors look inviting in Cooch Behar.

I started saving early (right from my very first monthly salary half a decade ago). I won’t be surprised if you told me you skipped that step. Most of my friends and colleagues would spend their entire income on lifestyle expenditure (apart from the mandatory rent, utilities, taxes, etc.). The bigger their wardrobes and whiskey closets got, the smaller their pool of savings became. Some of my friends were perpetually on a negative bank-balance or with credit card debt. Whatever be your past, you can still start now. It is never too late to open the doors to a financially sturdy future.

Investment Options Are Like A Buffet Spread

Delicacies are laid out before me in Moscow's Gum Mall.

Delicacies are laid out before me in Moscow’s Gum Mall.

It is good to start saving, but that’s not enough. If you belong to a country with high inflation (such as India), your wealth will erode in worth over time. This is why it could be dangerous to let your money sit idle in a savings account with its paltry interest rate. While there is an assortment of bank deposits and funds that safe-players often lock their money into, you could dabble in the stock market (if your risk appetite, investment horizon and financial goals allow you to). Even with stocks, there better ways to utilize your assets than just holding them. Let’s see how!

A Good Hiker Takes Small Steps

Hiking in Har Ki Dun - The Himalayas of Uttarakhand

Hiking in Har Ki Dun – The Himalayas of Uttarakhand

If option-trading (I’m talking about derivatives here) exists in your country and the laws in your jurisdiction allow you to write your own options (through a broker), you would make your stock holdings (in your demat account) work harder by writing call options on your underlying stocks and selling those in the market. If you are in the US of A, you are obviously very lucky to have a mature options trading market, and hence, more liquidity and a good chance of making a near-regular monthly income through the monthly sale of call options on the same set of underlying stocks (until the buyers of your options exercise their call). If all that I have said sounds like Latin and Greek to you, here’s a simple tutorial that will help you understand things better. (Don’t worry, most people who don’t invest in the markets or work at banks, don’t understand much anyway. 😉 So, you have no need to berate yourself over your limited knowledge of financial instruments.) Next, we’ll see how you can implement this investment strategy. It is all about taking one step at a time, just as in hiking.

We All Need Some Mentors Along The Way

I look out from my friend's window in Germany.

I look out from my friend’s window in Germany.

For writing covered calls, you will need some strong analysis. My friends at Born To Sell have some useful tools to help you write efficient covered calls for your stock underlyings. If you are a new subscriber, you can get up to 4 months’ free service when you sign up for their covered call screener. You also get 2-weeks’ free trial before your paid subscription begins. For every new journey, we need mentors and friends who make us feel at home. Even as I travel to foreign countries, I am thankful to the friends and strangers who have hosted me and helped in hundreds of ways.

Sound Decisions Before Stunning Results

I smile a smile of satisfaction from my winter home in California.

I smile a smile of satisfaction from my winter home in California.

When I said goodbye to my corporate life, I did not throw the knowledge out of the window. This is why even as I depend on luck for my next writing assignment, my bills know they will be paid, and on time!

Do you have a dream you are afraid to acknowledge?

Are you a slave of money?

Write your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more pictures and stories of my life as a traveller. Do share this article with that friend who needs some encouragement to follow that dream!

Forex Tips for your Overseas Travel

For most casual travelers, planning any foreign trip involves a checklist which more or less covers the following:-

  1. Air tickets
  2. Accommodation
  3. Visa
  4. Mini lists of things to do/see/eat/drink
  5. Foreign exchange
  6. International calling

Money Matters

Once you have your flights and visa figured out, you should map out your finances for the trip. All the other things on the list above can be figured out on the fly. But foreign currency is something that you need to arrange for before you leave the country. We Indians, especially, are at a disadvantage as the rupee is not a reserve currency, and those paper bills are little more than souvenirs to your foreign hosts. I remember having to carry cash in dollars and euros on my short trip to Sri Lanka (read: First Impressions of Sri Lanka) as not even our neighboring country would accept the Indian rupee! You can forget about exchanging rupees in faraway continents such as Europe or the Americas.

We all dream of pretty castles we'll visit on that Eurotrip

We all dream of pretty castles we’ll visit on that Eurotrip (a snap of Trakai Castle from my Lithuania trip)

For flashpackers and last minute travelers, the burden of arranging for Forex makes spontaneity less exciting. I remember when my friend went on his first international backpacking trip to Canada, and realized a few hours before he was to catch his flight that he had no currency bills except a couple of thousand rupees! He had to exchange his notes at the Mumbai airport at the worst rate possible! (He was later able to arrange for sufficient Canadian dollars with the help of his hosts, but only after a lot of hassle.)

Forex Solutions?

It is for such situations that you need a convenient foreign currency and money exchange solution. When IndusInd Bank told me about their newly launched IndusForex.com, I was curious to know if it would help travelers like me. So, I got on a call with their Retail Banking Head to have my queries answered.

Foreign trips don't mean you have to lug around your treasure chest!

Foreign trips don’t mean you have to lug around your treasure chest (plenty of which you can buy in UAE)!

I picked his brains on their multi-currency exchange portal to gauge if it was comprehensive enough to be a one-stop-shop for my Forex needs. The site primarily lets you buy and sell Forex, send money abroad in 16 currencies, and reload your Forex card in 8 currencies. Which brings me to my first tip:-

Tip-1: Get a Forex Card!

It is the simplest and most secure method of carrying money on a foreign trip. I have used Forex cards on each of my 3 trips to Europe so far (read: Lleida – A Reminiscence). There are certain things you must keep in mind with a Forex card:-

  1. It works as a debit card, so you can withdraw cash in your destination country’s local currency at any ATM.
  2. You need to remember a PIN (obviously!)
  3. You lose nothing when you lose the card, because you can easily call up the issuing institution, ask them to block the card you lost, and ask for a replacement / addon card. Without your secret PIN, the Forex card is only a piece of plastic.
  4. You can shop and pay your restaurant bills without carrying credit cards with you (which levy a significant Forex conversion fee and can be misused if lost as many countries don’t need a PIN / two-factor authentication).
It is easier to enjoy your al fresco lunch when you know how you will be paying

It is easier to enjoy your al fresco lunch when you know how you will be paying (picture from Riga)

IndusInd Bank’s new Visa Forex card additionally promises some features, most of which I haven’t seen on such cards by other banks / Forex card companies:-

  1. No currency conversion charges even if you are converting among the 8 available currency-options in the card. This means, if you are just back from USA, and are prepping for your next trip to Singapore, you can convert your balance US dollars into SG dollars at no extra fee!
  2. No processing fee when you order and load your card for the first time.
  3. No ATM withdrawal fee. (With other cards, I’ve always lost a couple of Euros with each withdrawal, which has prompted me to take out excess cash just to avoid being charged for frequent ATM visits.)
  4. Fully paperless application process. The site lets you upload your supporting documents (passport and PAN) online, and dispatches the card via courier (if you don’t wish to collect it physically).
Cash is just as important as digital currency when you are on the road

Cash is just as important as digital currency when you are on the road

Tip-2: Carry Cash in Multiple Stashes

Despite all the cards you have with you, it helps to have cash for a few reasons:-

  1. Not all places accept digital money (think: roadside kiosks famous for local street food you just cannot miss)
  2. You may not have access to an ATM everywhere, especially in sparsely populated hamlets situated away from the cities.
  3. You will need some emergency cash in the event of your cards getting stolen (even if you have no notional loss).

For all foreign travel, I always split my cash into at least 3 parts.

  • One part is hidden somewhere in my check-in luggage.
  • The second part is usually tucked away in my carry-on bag.
  • The third stash is always on my person (in a waist-pouch or money-belt). Any thief will literally have to get into a deadly combat with me to get to the 3rd part.

When you keep money in multiple locations, you always have some even if one part is stolen or lost. Also, if one of your bags is lost/delayed in transit, it doesn’t spoil all of your vacation.

It's easy to smile when you know your money is safe, even though your hair is in disarray

It’s easy to smile when you know your money is safe, even though your hair is in disarray (that’s me in Budapest)

I’ve given you 2 of my biggest money-tips for your next trip abroad! Do you have some more of your own that you’d like to share? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

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