It all started with a five-week trip to Thailand in 2000. We fell in love with travel, but we’ve had our fair share of mishaps over the years. From being airlifted from the Amazon to getting lost on Swiss Rail, we made a lot of travel mistakes. So we’ve compiled this comprehensive list of our best travel tips from the things we learned over the past 20 years of traveling the world.
We’ve done everything from cycling the continent of Africa to driving a car from England to Mongolia. By traveling both independently, with groups, and for business to 110 countries over the past two decades, we learned a lot.
Our Best Travel Tips
So are you ready to make the most of your travels when we can all hit the road again? Let’s get started with these top tips for traveling the world in 2021!
Money Travel Tips
1. Don’t Go Into Debt
This is one of the most important tips for traveling we can give you. Don’t spend beyond your means. You’ll regret every moment of your travels if you come back home from a trip of a lifetime only to face a mountain of debt.
If you can’t afford to travel internationally yet, do some adventures in your own backyard. When Dave and I were dreaming of traveling the world, we explored a lot of our home province of Ontario, Canada. Being in nature weekends got us out of our rut and inspired us to try new things.
As you explore your backyard, home, you can save money and a plan to travel the world. For us, we put away a lot of money by doing adventures close to home and within a year we were on a trip around the world.
- Read how you can save money for travel here.
2. Always Get Travel Insurance
This is seriously one of the best travel tips we can offer. Get travel insurance before you leave home. A lot of people say, “I only need travel insurance if I am going off the beaten path” but they are wrong. Accidents can happen anywhere. Dave and I were on a luxury cruise a few years ago and he slipped on a set of stairs and broke his back. If we didn’t have travel insurance, we would have been stuck paying nearly $100,000 dollars for the air ambulance and hospital bills. We can say with certainty to purchase travel insurance.
- Why get travel medical insurance? – read why here
3. Hire Local Guides
By hiring local guides, you are directly supporting the local economy. It cuts out the middle man and helps local families. Plus, hiring locals will help you save money. When you book tours overseas or online, you are paying the middle man, the tour operator, and the rent for an expensive office. When you book locally, the money is going directly into that person’s pocket. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends and immerse in local culture. They have often invited us to their homes and given us a more meaningful travel experience.
4. Apply for a Rewards Travel Credit Card
I know we said do not go into debt, but we still feel that credit cards are key to traveling in style and boosting your travel budget. Using a good rewards credit card will help you save money for travel. Rewards add up quickly and offer a lot of perks like free travel, free upgrades, and late checkout. Plus, a lot of cards offer huge signing bonuses that you can put towards your flight to help you travel the world.
But note – We always make sure to pay off our credit card monthly and never carry a high limit. To decide on the rewards credit card that works fo you, check out this list of all the best travel credit cards in one place.
- For more tips to travel the world check out: How to Travel Around the World – The Ultimate Travel Resource
5. Debit Card and Credit Cards
Before you travel, let your bank and credit card companies know of your travel plans. If they suddenly notice a purchase overseas, they may lock your credit cards. Plus, be sure to carry a few different cards. We’ve had our debit card blocked in Cuba, eaten at an ATM in Istanbul, and our blocked in Sudan even after informing our banks about our travel plans. In Sri Lanka, we tried 3 different bank and credit cards before we could finally get money out of the ATM. It’s good to have a few different cards from different banks on hand to be prepared for all the reasons above.
6. Cash in Small Bills
We’re Canadian, but we always have a couple of hundred US dollars in small bills for tipping when we arrive at our hotel or for the ride from the airport. Whether you are traveling in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, or Europe, US dollars work everywhere. Also, it’s good to have some cash on hand at all times in case of an emergency – USD is the most widely accepted around the world.
Tours and Travel Style
7. Take Advantage of Free Walking Tours
Whenever we get to a new city, we join a free walking tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings around town. This is one of the best travel tips that we didn’t even know until we’d been traveling around the world for a few years. But these free walking tours are awesome! Usually the free walking tours are better than the tours you book ahead of time online. They are led by locals and you only pay what you feel is comfortable at the end of the tour. We usually suggest $10 per person.
8. Get a City Pass
When visiting any city, we recommend getting a city pass. We use them to save money by bundling attractions. If you are spending a few days in a city and want to see all the major tourist attractions, we highly recommend getting a City Pass. It gives you access to public transit and it allows you to skip the lines at major tourist sites. Our Favourite City Pass Bundles are CityPass for USA and Canada, and Leisure Pass for Europe.
9. Choose Tours Wisely
We made a lot of these mistakes in our early years of travel and that is why we really wanted to share this very important travel tip. When choosing tours, make sure you go with a responsible company. Ask questions.
Don’t swim with dolphins in captivity, don’t ride elephants, and don’t chase wildlife. In Chiang Mai we looked for elephant sanctuaries and everyone claimed that they were one. When we asked questions we found out that they let tourists ride elephants and they weren’t really a sanctuary at all.
If you do find yourself on a tour where your guide is being unethical or having a negative impact on the environment, wildlife or culture, speak up and tell them you are not happy. Guides often think they need to pick up the turtle or chase the dolphins to make the tourists happy or get a tip.
- Read Our Best Responsible Travel Tips:
- Meaningful Travel Tips
- Responsible Tourism
10. Respect Local Culture
When visiting a new destination one of the best travel tips we can give is to learn about the culture and customs. Before you travel, do a bit of research to look into the way the culture dresses and what the accepted behavior is in public. You’ll feel more comfortable as you blend in and you save yourself some embarassement by doing something wrong.
- Read How to Make Your Travel Meaningful
11. Give Back
Be it through volunteering, raising money, or visiting a project. You can make a difference when traveling. It can be as simple as staying at a local family-run guest house, hiring a private local guide, or shopping locally. Our favorite travel tip is to tell people to get involved. It truly adds more meaning to your trips and makes you feel better about yourself. We once taught English for a day in Cambodia. It wasn’t planned, but a local teacher asked us if we wanted to visit their class so the kids could practice. We’ll never forget what an uplifting experience what was.
Insider Travel Tips
12. Take Lots of Photos of Yourself
Dave and I were always embarrassed to ask others to take photos of us. And now we have very few of us together. Ask other tourists to take photos of yourself in front of those iconic sites around the world. And make sure it is more than just a selfie! We started doing selfies and find that they all end up looking the same. Get those epic shots and start making memories. And then print some of them out. Don’t just leave them on your phone or computer, make prints to display when you get back home to remind you of those amazing travel memories.
13. Splurge Every Once in a While
Even if you are on the tightest of budgets, it’s important to splurge on the finer things in life when traveling the world. We’ve done a lot of backpacking on a very small budget, but every few weeks we take a break from cheap hotels. Sometimes when we arrive in a city after a grueling adventure, we book a luxury hotel to recharge and keep the fun, excitement and romance alive. In particular, if you are traveling in Southeast Asia, a luxury hotel can be quite cheap!
14. Step out of your Comfort Zone
Travel is your time to do something spontaneous that you’d never dream of doing at home. Whenever we’ve stepped out of our comfort zone, new and exciting things happened in our lives too. It just takes a small step to make a great change. Travel that can inspire you to take on new hobbies and see your life through different eyes. So go for it! Read: How to Face Your Fears to get started.
15. Don’t Compete with Other Travellers
You know who they are. The travel snobs who have to brag about where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and who they did it with. Who cares? Travel is for you! Don’t let anyone pressure you into trying something you don’t want to, or making you feel bad about where you’ve been or what you’ve done. To those who try to one-up your experiences, forget about them. The great thing about traveling the world, is you don’t have to see them ever again if you don’t want to.
16. A Smile Goes a Long Way
A smile breaks the ice when you first meet people and it helps a lot in tough situations. Smiling can ease an uncomfortable moment and it breaks the tension with the people you meet along the way. When you get off off the beaten path, a smile is often the only thing you will have in common when communicating.
Even when negotiating at the market, we smile. We find we can get a better deal if we smile. We find that locals approach us more if we smile. We get better service if we smile, and we make new friends when we smile.
17. You Don’t have to Be Fluent in a Second Language
A lot of people ask us if we speak other languages. We really don’t! So don’t let the fact that you don’t speak thr language stop you from traveling the world. In today’s world with Google Translate and countless other language apps, you can get by with ease. But we do recommend learning a few keywords and phrases of the local language. If you can say “hello”, “thank you”, “how are you”, and other simple phrases, people will respect you for trying to learn their language and making the effort. A little bit goes a long way!
- Check out our favourite travel apps besides Google Translate: The Best Travel Apps That Travelers Should Download Today
18. Sunrise is Better than Sunset (Most of the Time)
Getting out early for sunrise is a chore, I know. But most of our best photographs and memorable quiet travel moments have happened at sunrise. If there is one travel tip we can offer, it is to set the alarm and get up before dawn. When you go to an iconic view or landmark at sunset it is often overrun with tourists. But at sunrise, you usually have the place to yourself. In the morning, nobody is around. We love walking on the beach or through city streets while having it all to ourselves.
19. Make a Plan – But Don’t Over Plan
Travel costs a lot of money, so it’s good to have a plan before you fly. But don’t over plan. We usually make a plan for the first two or three nights of our travels and then play it by ear from there. We book a hotel for the first two nights which gives us time to decide if we like where we are or if we want to move on. We also make a point of joining a tour to see the top tourist attractions at our destination but after seeing the bucket list items our plans can go right out the window. Some of our most exciting travel moments have been when we got a hot tip and changed our plans.
20. Be Flexible
This brings us to, be open to changing plans. It’s good to plan your route around the world but it is also important to stay open to new possibilities. We’ve changed plans after travellers recommended we join them and fly to Borneo to climb Mount Kinabalu. It was the best decision we ever made. Once while sitting on an island in Malaysia and met people heading to KL to see Thaipusam. We didn’t even know what Thaipusam was, but we went with them and experienced the most amazing and shocking festival on earth.
If we decided to stick to our plans and keep a rigid schedule, we never would have had those amazing moments that we have never forgotten.
21. Buy Souvenirs and Use the Post Office
We know a lot of people who say they don’t buy anything from anywhere when they travel because they don’t have space in their luggage. But we love going to local markets and buying souvenirs. We just send it home! We can still pack light and buy a lot. Plus going to post offices in other countries can be an adventure. I’ll never forget having to use the correct color of yarn when sending a package home from a post office in Malaysia. And now that we are home, we have memories. Every time I look at my drum from Bali or Digeridoo from Australia, I am reminded of my travels.
20. Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food
Don’t be afraid of eating street food. It is often the freshest and most authentic. Here’s a hot travel tip: If food is cooked over a flame, deep-fried or boiled, it is safe to eat. Just make sure the person behind the counter, doesn’t touch it with their bare hands after cooking. When looking for local food, we just walk around looking for vendors surrounded by locals. We avoid the overpriced tourist traps and instead join the regular patrons at their local hot spot.
Travel Safety Tips
21. Follow Your Instincts
If that rickshaw or taxi ride seems so cheap that it is too good to be true, it probably is! An important travel tip to remember is to follow your gut. We have visited many local families during our travels. We’ve been invited to dinner and inside tea at many houses and almost always accept the invitations. Usually people are wonderful and welcoming.
But we’ve turned down a lot of invitations too. The invitations that feel shady probably are. If we have second thoughts, we listen to that gut feeling. Whenever we have gone against our gut feelings, things have gone wrong.
22. Don’t Let Your Guard Down
When we have been scammed out of our money, experienced a dicey situation, or when we’ve been robbed, we can look back and see the mistakes we made by not following our instincts. A lot of travel mistakes happen when people let their guards down. You have to be as smart when traveling the world as you are at home. Don’t party until the wee hours of the morning and go home alone, don’t walk down dark deserted alleyways alone, and don’t get into cars with strangers.
23. Don’t Put Yourself at Risk – Be Smart
Dave and I have taken on a lot of epic adventures in our lives and more importantly, we hired professionals to help us out when we needed it. WE see a lot of people doing stupid things for the “gram” or to share on social. Don’t climb towers just to show off and don’t do adventures that your qualified to handle. We weren’t qualified to do a lot of our epic adventures independently. If we hiked the Arctic Watershed alone, we definitely would have died. But with expert guides, were learned new skills and accomplished life-changing challenges around the world in a safe and fun way.
24. Cover Up and Wear Sunscreen
I’m not saying you have to slather yourself in sunscreen all day every day but I do suggest that you wear sunscreen. Skin cancer is a very real thing. However, I find that wearing lightweight long-sleeved clothing and a hat works really well. I cover up most of my body and then wear sunscreen on my nose, ears and neck. Trust me, your older self will thank me.
25. Vaccinations and Disease
Before leaving to travel the world, go to a travel doctor or travel clinic to learn what vaccinations you need for each specific destination. Do this at least 6 months in advance as some vaccinations require more than one shot. The doctor will also fill some travel specific prescriptions like Malaria and antibiotics.
Mosquitoes carry many diseases like Malaria and Zika. So just like we said above about covering up, wearing breathable, long-sleeved clothing will protect you from insect bites. Insects hate light colours, so wear light coloured clothes. You can even buy insect repellent clothing to help reduce the risk of mosquito bites.
Packing Tips for Traveling Around the World
26. Pack Light
The best travel tip we can possibly give you is to pack light. We know what it’s like to overpack and it’s awful. We once carried dive gear through Central America and it ruined our travels. You don’t need a new outfit for every day of the week. You aren’t going to see the same people all the time and nobody is going to notice if you have the same T-shirt on as the other day. Pack lightweight clothing that is easy to wash.
- Check out our packing traveler tips: the Ultimate Packing List
27. Choose the Right Backpack
So when packing for your travels around the world, buy a backpack that is easy to lug around. Don’t make the mistake we made up buying the biggest and best. If you choose a smaller backpack, you won’t be able to carry more than you need. Trust me, if you have the space, you will fill it.
28. Carryon Care Package for the Plane
If you have to check a bag, it is important to have important items with you in case your luggage is lost. We check our bags because we carry computers and cameras in our carryon and don’t have a lot of space for clothing. But we do put in essentials for flying and to last a couple of days if we need it.
We pack a change of clothes and underwear, plus carryon size toiletries and personal items. Our airplane care package includes
- noise-canceling earbuds (Deb) headphones (Dave) – personal preference
- eye mask and ear plugs
- lip balm
- Gravol, Advil Cold and Sinus (I get stuffy on the plane)
- Tiger balm – to mask bad odors, but not too overpowering for others around us
- Shawl or sweater
- Read: Air Travel Made Easy
29. Always Pack a Sarong
Make sure to always pack a sarong I never leave on my travels without one . A sarong can be used as a headscarf in the Middle East and used it to cover up when entering temples in Asia. It works as a beach blanket, a towel when snorkeling, and a sunshade on a boat ride and to keep warm on an overly air-conditioned bus ride or flight. I’ve even dressed up an outfit for dinner by wrapping a decorative sarong around my waist.
- Check out the many uses of the Simple Sarong
30. Pack a Water Bottle and a SteriPen
Save the world don’t buy bottled water! We have really cut down on buying bottled water over the years and instead carry a water bottle that we refill daily. When going to places where water isn’t potable, we use our SteriPen to purify it.
We purify water anywhere in the world – we’ve even used it in the rivers of Kazakhstan! It purifies water using ultraviolet light in 30 seconds and it’s lightweight too! We also prefer to pack a collapsible water bottle for optimal space.
31. Carry Portable Chargers
Always pack a portable charger. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the middle of a great day and our batteries went dead. There is no excuse anymore. Most of our Sony products charge by USB and our portable charger has 4 USB charges in it. Now we never miss a shot! The VPower 23000mAH power charger is a good choice.
- Check out more The Best Travel Gear – Unique Ideas for Smart Packing
32. Do an Idiot Check
Dave and I used the term “idiot check” whenever we leave our hotel room or restaurant. Even if we think we have everything packed up, we usually find something we left behind. That’s why before leaving a hotel, we always do a final sweep. And we call that an idiot check. We check the beds, outlets, under chairs, and behind doors.
33. Always Make the Bed
This may seem like a weird travel tip, especially under the subheading “packing tips” But before leaving a hotel, I always make the bed. It sounds ridiculous, but I cannot tell you how many items I have found in the covers. I never would have noticed had I not made the bed. It is amazing how many things slip under the sheets when we unpack in our hotel room. So before I leave any hotel room, I make the bed.
Traveling with Couples or Groups
34. A Fight Doesn’t Mean the End of Your Relationship (or friendship)
Traveling with your best friend or the one you love can be a very intense experience. You are stuck with each other 24 hours a day. Emotions run high and you are definitely not in your usual comfortable environment. This situation causes stress on people. Dave and I have had some doozy arguments. I’m talking yelling matches with each other. But we understand that sometimes you just have to let off a little steam. Don’t be too proud to apologize and don’t hold a grudge. Arguments happen, but it doesn’ have to ruin a friendship.
35. Don’t Get Hangry
Some of our biggest arguments happen while trying to find a place to eat when we are “HANGRy”. (angry + hungry). We have talked to so many people who have travelled the world who agree, that Hanger is usually their biggest cause of fights. Start planning for lunch or dinner before you are hungry. Or carry some snacks with your for your day out sightseeing so you don’t get to the point of being Hangry.
36. Tell your Companion How Much You Appreciate Them
Travel can be all-consuming. It’s easy to forget about the person you are traveling with and become self-absorbed. Be it your spouse or friend, it’s important to let them know how much they mean to you. You chose to travel with them because you love them or enjoy their company. We never take that for granted and let each other know how much we appreciate their support. Even the little things.
As a travel couple, this is our number one travel tip. Travel can’t be about one person dictating where to go and what to do. Dave and I like spending time together but we don’t necessarily like the same things. But we do compromise. We give a little, and we each try things that the other person likes. And you know what? We often find out that we like it! Everyone is different, so we try to respect each other’s opinions and boundaries. If you are a morning person and the person you are traveling isn’t, give them their space until they are ready to chat. Don’t expect everyone to conform to the way ou live your life.
Budget Travel Tips
38. Skip Hotels if on a Budget
We found the best way to save money was to rent an apartment with a kitchen. Even if it is a bit more money than a hotel, we save so much on food. Eating out is one of the biggest expenses of travel. So if you can eat a few meals at home, it’s worth it. What we like about staying in apartments as opposed to hotels is that we can cook at home and save on eating out.
VRBO is an excellent way to save on accommodation. It’s an alternative to hotels allowing you to save money and to experience your travels like a local.Trip Advisor and Booking.com now offer apartment rental choices.
39. Don’t Eat Out Every Meal
When traveling, meals can add up quickly, so if you can eat breakfast and cook a few gourmet dinners in your apartment rental, you can save a lot of money. It’s also a lot of fun shopping at the local markets. We often have breakfast in our flat and then have a picnic for lunch. We then make a huge and cheap meal in our kitchen, complete with wine and appetizers. We can then go out at night for snacks and cocktails in a local restaurant or bar without breaking the bank.
- Check out VRBO for accommodation
40. Try the Local Food
Trying the local food is one of the greatest travel experiences when in a foreign country. We love eating with our hands in India and Morocco. We love spooning our food in Thailand and picking up rice with chopsticks in Asia. Plus when you eat local, you save money. Restaurant hotels and eateries in tourist zones are more expensive. When you go to a local eatery, you’ll save a lot of money on a more authentic meal.
Some of our best experiences have been trying local food like a Sichuan Hot Pot in China that made our tongues go numb, or a three-hour meal in Japan serving 20 courses of beautifully designed dishes. Look for places filled with locals and head inside. Don’t be afraid to ask for help for what is good on the menu.
41. Get off the Beaten Path
It is amazing to see the top sites like the Eiffel Tower of Paris or the Taj Mahal of India, but some of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had are when we are in remote destinations. Plus when you travel off the beaten path, it is less expensive.
When you go away from the tourist traps, you not only leave the crowds behind, you also leave the tourist prices behind. Going to places like Kyrgystan or Mongolia is much cheaper than a popular tourist destination because they haven’t inflated their prices yet!
42. Feel Free to Wander
Make it a priority to immerse in the local culture. Don’t take a tour that simply drives through a neighborhood and keeps you behind the glass as you gawk at the people on the street. Get outside, go for a walk and get lost in the markets. Talk to people and ask them about their lives. We’ve made lasting friendships this way.
The best travel tip I can give you is if you are visiting popular tourist destinations, let yourself wander and get lost in the back streets of Venice or wander through the streets of Paris at night. Even the most popular tourist destinations have quiet places to visit. But don’t get lost to the point of putting yourself in danger.
Airport Travel Tips
43. Get Priority Pass
Most Travel Rewards Credit Cards come with lounge access at your home airport, but they don’t cover other airports. Priority Pass has been a savior for us. With Priority Pass, we have access to more than 600 lounges around the world and it makes flying so much more fun. Lounges have free food and drinks, free wifi and quiet places to relax. We can sleep during layovers and have a shower after a long flight.
We use American Express Platinum and Priority Pass Comes with it, but if you don’t have a credit card with Priority Pass, you can also purchase it separately. Check out Priority Pass for details.
43. Get a Credit Card that Let’s you Skip the Security Line
In our home airport of Toronto Pearson, anyone with a specific American Express Card can skip the security lines and go into priority boarding. Look into your local airport and see what they offer. We have been in airports around the world and see that certain cards like Visa, En Route or American Express get priority security access.
44. Look for Business travelers at the security line
When lining up at security, never get behind families, they are always slow. Instead, go to the line filled with business travelers. Even if it’s a bit longer, it will move faster because everyone knows what they are doing and get through quickly.
45. Pack Liquids in clear ziplock bags
Keep everything simple while in line and have all your liquids prepacked and easy to access in a ziplock bag. I put it at the top of my carryon and pull out my computer, and bag of liquids in one swoop. If you can start your travel off on the right foot, it sets the tone for a relaxing and fun vacation
46. How to Book Cheap Flights
There are many travel websites for booking flights and accommodation. We like Skyscanner for finding the best deals on cheap flights. It offers price comparison and you can maximize searches by having flexible flying dates.
If you search a few days before and after your preferred flying dates, you may save hundreds of dollars. Having flexible dates is a great way to save money on flights.
- Read more tips on saving money on flights here: 10 Best Travel Hacks for Flying
For day tours and city tours we use Get Your Guide or Viator. These companies offer affordable day tours and city guides around the world that can be easily canceled with 24 hours notice. They can also be booked last minute.
Final Thoughts – More Top Travel Tips
47. Put Down the Cell Phone
It may seem easy, but this is one of those travel tips that people need to be reminded of. A photo is nice to have, but it’s how you feel in the moment that you will remember forever. Today’s world is noisy. Travel gives you the opportunity to block out the noise, so put down your smartphone and be present instead. When Dave and I look back on the past 20 years, we don’t remember how many likes a photo got on Instagram or how many views on TikTok, we remember the experiences we had.
48. Have an Open Mind
Many people have preconceived notions about a place before they go. Especially when traveling internationally. The beauty of travel is that you learn and understand different cultures and religions. People are often the same as you and me. They laugh, they cry, they care about their families. You’ll find that you have more in common with people around the world than you thought.
49. Back up your Photos
We’ve seen more than one person lose all their photos on a trip by never downloading them onto a hard drive or into the cloud. One mistake, and all your memories are erased. Back photos up even while you are still traveling. Don’t just keep using the same memory card, YOu are taking a huge chance. You can carry a portable hard drive, upload them to the cloud, or other online storage, put them on your computer or store them on Smugmug.
50. Relax – Things Will Go Wrong
And finally, relax and take a breath. Things will inevitably go wrong but we’ve seen way too many people fly off the handle. We seen people complain while on tours, or argue at check-in, and grumble over meals for absolutely no reason. Instead, be in the moment and take it all in.
Travel can be frustrating and overwhelming, but we’ve learned (over time) to take a breath and step back for a moment.
51. Remember Travel is a Privilege
Travel is a privilege and oftentimes the people we end up complaining to or shouting at have very little authority. They also usually have very little at home. You are lucky to be able to travel. Not everyone in the world is so lucky. The people serving you on your travels are working hard to get by and feed their families. As they are being yelled at they are probably wondering, “Why on earth are we so upset about something so small?” As travelers, we are the lucky ones and the more we remember that, the easier our travels become.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is a list of our best travel tips from 20 years on the road. Nobody is perfect at traveling and the only way to get better is to keep doing it. After 20 years, we’re still learning new tricks!
We’d love to hear your words of wisdom too. Got some tips on travel to share? Tell us below.
Read more Travel Tips
- How to Travel the World – The Ultimate Travel Resource
- 21 Ways to Get Paid to Travel
- 10 Proven Tips – How to Bargain While Traveling
- Thailand Travel Tips – Things to Know Before You Go
- Travel Resources
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