10 Reasons to Go Flashpacking the Next Time You Travel

Curtis from Flashpacking Life
Curtis and Lindsie at Angkor

Curtis and Lindsie at Angkor, Cambodia.

What’s the best way to pack for a year on the road?

Okay, so it’s a trick question. Unless you’re off to tag penguins at a base in Antarctica, there’s simply no need — or even a good reason — to pack for a year.

Eight months ago, my wife Lindsie and I pooled our savings, quit our jobs, rented out our condo, and set off to spend a year traveling the world. But a year’s worth of gear would be impossibly heavy; a year isn’t a vacation, it’s an expedition. So rather than plan (and pack) for all contingencies, we’re flashpacking.

As a flashpacker, you take along a few more tech tools, a few more dollars — and a lot less stuff. (Travel writer Kathleen Krisslip defines flashpacking as “backpacking with bucks and toys,” which is a pretty concise way to sum it up.) In practice, that means no camping gear or sleeping bags (with the exception of a good Victorinox. No clothing that you’re not definitely planning to wear within the next few weeks. No enormous suitcases and oversized backpacks that you have to sit on to zip up.

As a starting point, think laptop, cell phone, camera, good-quality gear locks, basic clothes, and some cards and cash. And that’s about it. Maybe an iron-on badge for your bag.

Sound scary? It’s not. After eight months as a flashpacker, I wouldn’t travel any other way.

Here are ten reasons you should consider approaching your next trip in gloriously lightweight flashpacker style:

1. Luggage is heavy. Anywhere you travel, you’ll find people who packed way too much — they’re the ones standing in the train station looking exhausted and surrounded by bags.

Our trip started in Thailand, so we packed swimsuits and flip-flops. No coats. No boots. No bulky sweaters. We knew we wouldn’t need warm clothes until we’d passed through Southeast Asia — so why lug them through all those airports and hotel lobbies and beachfront bungalows? You won’t be wearing a sweater when eating at a restaurant like this one:

Floating restaurant

I didn’t even pack a razor; turns out they’re plenty cheap in Bangkok. The day before our flight to Australia, I picked up a toasty hooded sweatshirt (again, in Bangkok) for five bucks.

2. Shopping is fun. If you’ve got everything you need, what’s to do but go out for meals and do tourist stuff? Shopping for shampoo in Siem Reap or a dress shirt in Kuala Lumpur can be one of the most memorable and entertaining experiences you’ll have on the road. (Though I do advise you to avoid shaking hands with any Thai tailors standing in front of their shops; it can take hours — or an inked deal — before they’ll release your numb fingers from their surprisingly vice-like grip.)

While shopping for jeans deep in the maze of an open-air mall in Singapore, Lindsie and I spotted a hairdressing school and decided to give it a try. (Neither of us had had a cut for about three months.) We spent about an hour and a half getting haircuts from the giggling students, then chatting with the owner as he fed us delicious samples of different local fruits. An unforgettable experience for a few bucks, and the haircuts turned out surprisingly well, even if they took forever.

3. Toys are fun. Even though flashpackers pack light, a few lightweight tech toys are central to the experience — meaning a good computer and cell are more than worth the extra weight.

Lindsie and I both write, and I do some online work, so we both opted to bring our MacBook laptops. Even though there are lighter options out there like the Asus Eee PC, I honestly can’t imagine how I’d fare without my usual software (Dreamweaver, Photoshop, the usual MS baloney) and a big fat 120GB drive.

In my case, the computer lets me do some writing, editing, and other online work that brings in a few bucks… but that’s just the start of it. Our photo gallery hit 10,000 this month and will probably double before we get home, and I can store and edit at least most of the shots we’ve taken on the laptop (though we have burned DVD backups and sent them home as well).

Plus we can email, tweet, blog, and use Skype to send cheap texts and make worldwide calls for pennies a minute. And I can keep a few websites backed up offline, then put together new pages and sites to upload as required. As they say at Mastercard: priceless. And the best part is that we can do it all from a cafe in Montmartre if we want to.

Flashpacking Montmartre

Along with the laptops, we’ve got a few good-quality cable locks, a 2GB Sandisk USB memory stick (for backups and computer-to-computer transfers), two cameras (a little Olympus and a big honking Nikon D80), and my phone, which doubles (or I guess quintuples) as an MP3 player, radio, alarm clock, and backup-backup camera.

4. Plans change. One of the great things about flashpacking is that you can research and book pretty much any form of transport and accommodation — from pretty much anywhere. That means if Ryanair offers a $0 sale on flights from Frankfurt to Madrid, you can change your travel plans to incorporate a little more tapas and Picasso. And you can research and book it from the hotel bar. Which we did.

We took advantage of Cambodia’s monsoon season to book tickets for five separate train rides through France — and find free and low-cost accommodations through The Couchsurfing Project and Owners Direct — all from our bed in a little seaside bungalow. (Tip: If your French is up to it, or if you don’t mind spending lots of time on Google Translate, you can book French rail tickets for WAY less than Eurail charges on SNCF.)

5. You change. What seemed like a great destination idea six months ago might start feeling a little stale before you even get there… if, say, you’re sick of beaches and looking for something more cultural. Or if you’re sick of culture and ready to party. Or if you’re hung over and looking for someplace quiet.

Flashpacking means leaving without an itinerary, or at least without a full one. Not only does this let you change your plans to reflect your changing moods and tastes as the journey progresses; it also lets you take advantage of any serendipitous discoveries you make along the way.

For example, after learning that some family friends from London were traveling and leaving their flat empty, we changed our plans midstream. A few emails later, we had free (and beautiful) accommodations for a week in London. (Thanks again, Joan and Paul!)

6. Traveling light doesn’t mean leaving EVERYTHING behind. If you do any kind of work that’s based on creativity and communication (as opposed to, say, a labor job), you can probably bring a little of it along with you. This might mean using skills you’ve picked up on the job to consult or freelance — even if you’re just helping friends back home with a few side projects.

While on this trip, I’ve edited two new travel anthologies, kept a travel blog, published an eBook, launched a few new business blogs for friends, redesigned a website, and even coordinated a major marketing launch for a client’s business by email. I’m not getting rich (I wish!), but I’m keeping up the momentum and doing work that interests me — and I do most of it from hotel rooms an hour or two at a time after spending the day exploring a new city. If I make some money for tapas and drinks doing it, so much the better.

Bringing a laptop lets you get some work done — plus it lets you spend rainy evenings writing long emails to friends back home, designing a web page for your dream business, drafting the first chapter of your novel, editing raw footage into a trailer for your next film, or pretty much whatever else you fancy. It keeps you in touch and gives you the tools and storage to keep up the momentum on whatever projects matter to you.

7. Packing light lets you splurge on heavy stuff that MATTERS. In our case, that’s a Nikon D80 with a couple of lenses. It’s not lightweight by any stretch of the imagination, and probably weighs as much as a few dozen of those ultra-thin phones with Zeiss lenses and decent zoom. But there’s just no substitute when you’re in position for that one great shot.

Cricket Lady

(Yes, those are fried crickets, and yes, Cambodians love them.)

Packing light also means you can stuff a few bottles of French wine or some Balinese sculptures into your pack without worrying that it’ll bump you over a discount airline’s weight allowance — which we’ve found can be as low as 15 kilos (Ryanair).

8. People miss you. International cell calls are deadly expensive. Payphones can be scarce, complicated, and expensive even if you’re using a calling card. And while Internet cafes are great (and plentiful), they can be crowded, dirty, expensive, and like payphones, difficult to find.

And all these problems are sorry excuses for falling out of touch with the people who matter to you.

For keeping connected with friends, family, and work contacts, I love the convenience of having a laptop along with me. I can write a few dozen messages on Apple Mail at my leisure, then connect for a few minutes at a wifi hotspot to send them all and download my new email. When I’ve got a bit longer, I can Skype my mom at her farmhouse in rural British Columbia or use Adium, a great multi-client chat tool, to see if anyone’s available to chat on Windows, Google, AOL, or other chat networks.

9. There is downtime. Sometimes there’s no choice but to wait somewhere — in reception, in your hostel lobby, in an airport lounge. You can either twiddle your thumbs and read a magazine, or you can geek out and fire up the laptop.

For my downtime reading material, I use Google Reader, along with Gears, which lets me download up to a thousand new posts on my favorite blogs so I can read them at leisure when there’s nothing more interesting to do.

10. Flashpacking gets better every year. More hostels and hotels are catering to the flashpacker market than ever before, with free wifi connections getting easier to find all the time. Lindsie and I have found brilliant hangouts in the most unlikely places — like the Blue Pumpkin Bakery in Siem Reap, Cambodia, with its free wifi, delicious breakfasts, and all-white, ultramodern Clockwork Orange-style lounge.

For better or worse, western culture is creeping into every corner of the global village. That means you can find the comforts of home at your destination, or better, you can try out the locals’ comforts of home instead. Don’t worry if you didn’t pack your flip-flops — if you need some, they’re out there.

More about flashpacking: Flashpacking Wiki Travel Guide on Travellerspoint.com.

About the author:

Follow Curtis and Lindsie's round-the-world adventure as they blog it on dueling laptops at Flashpacking Life and Flashpacking Wife.

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Discussion »

  • #1Sam Daams

    Wow, great post that resonates. This is exactly my kind of travelling too. This has got to be doable with kids as well. All I need now is to offload some of this work that can’t be done online and convince the missus!

  • #2Nomadic Matt

    I am a avid flashpacker and written about it frequently on my website and for a few others. I love it. I totally agree. Shopping and toys are fun and you didn’t save money to not experience the finer things a country has to offer. You live once…live a little!

  • #3NewWrldYankee

    I lovee to hear tons more about this! Now that is something I’d love to do – wonder where all the stuff goes in the end?

  • #4Bob

    As a current backpacker I see more and more of this, but at this point in my life (and considering my resources) I still choose to see more and travel longer, trading time for comfort if you will.
    But as time goes on (and I get older and less willing to endure the discomforts of budget travel) I may do more of this type of traveling.

  • #5Lil' Boozie

    Curtis, so glad that you wrote this post. I’m definitely filing it away for future reference. Hope you & Lindsie are doing well – looking forward to Lindsie’s next post on “Flashpacking Wife”!

    Suz (a.k.a. Lil’ Boozie)

  • #6Alex Berger

    Wonderful post! Each time I travel abroad I find myself packing less and less. My goal for my upcoming 16 day trip is to do it all with a carry on friendly backpack, and secondary day pack. Looking over my list from last years 3 month trek, i’ll probably be packing nearly the same for 2 weeks as the essentials I used for 3 months.

  • #7Ant

    Great piece guys. I’m still a bit bored of the term flashpacker, but this is one of the best defences I’ve seen for modern day backpacking. I just hope the travel insurerance market cottons on and gives us a fairer deal on complete cover.

  • #8Curtis

    Thanks everyone for the comments, stumbles, and tweets, and for passing the article around — the response has been amazing!

    And I’m honored to have the entire Daams family tuned to my Tweets. ;)

    @Sam: If we can do it, you can too… I’m definitely planning to keep it up after we have kids.

    @Nomadic Matt: Thanks from one hardcore flashpacker to another. :)

    @Yankee: Where DOES all the stuff go… well, as for the stuff we pick up along the way, I’d say 20% gets mailed home, 30% wears out and gets trashed/recycled, and 50% makes for half-decent gifts to people we meet along the way.

    @Bob: I agree that going cheaper lets you go longer — good to find your own balance there.

    @Boozie: We’re doing great, thanks! Wish we could make it to Morocco ourselves (how often will we be this close?) but Portugal is calling… Lindsie should be posting about Venice soon, so stay tuned.

  • #9jessiev

    WOW! Fantastic – i love this article. bravo to you two! and inspiring…

  • #10Stuart

    Flashbacker=backpacker with laptop

    More comfort less hardcore

  • #11Rich

    great post. comfortably roughing it… right up my alley.

  • #12Andrea from Tux In Backpack

    Congrats on the huge response, as mentioned before you are indeed great Flashpacking ambassadors. And to take it from your point 10 the best in Flashpacking still has to come. Happy Travels!

  • #13Brad Curtis

    I completely disagree. I travel light. 6kg for my last year long trip. And I laugh at anyone who thinks travelling with a laptop is a good idea. Rediculously unnecessary and the exact form of added weight you are trying to justify not carrying.

  • #14joshua

    Very interesting stuff here. I’m headed to SE Asia in April, plan on spending 6-8 months out there. I’d like to bring my laptop along, but am concerned about theft. What precautions do you take (and/or recommend) to protect against theft? I’ll be budget traveling, staying in hostels and likely spending a good deal of time in the countryside. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

  • #15Jay

    Just got back from eleven weeks in Australia and NZ and took two pairs of pants, three shirts, one pair of shoes plus some Croc sandals for the showers. Took a laptop, two cameras, and cell phone.
    Biggest problem? High cost of internet in both countries. It was never free and I paid an average of $6 (U.S.) an hour in the cheaper internet cafes and the caravan parks. Some public libraries offer free wifi, but it never seemed to “be working.” The laptop was useful for storing photos and for keeping a travel blog, paying bills, etc. But pretty sure I wouldn’t take it on a trip shorter than a month. I did worry about it being stolen and was forever trying to figure out the best place to “hide it” especially if my rental van was parked at a trailhead or other semi-isolated place.

    I bought a phone before I left that the salesman assured me was “unlocked” and that I could buy a sim card for in Australia. It didn’t work and I had to buy another phone in AU. Then when I got to NZ, that phone didn’t work and had to buy yet another phone. Be smarter about phones that I was.

  • #16Curtis

    @Jay — I feel your pain. Australia was the pits for internet access: splotty, slow, and expensive. I went so far as to try a Starbucks (their wifi is free in most countries) and they wanted $12 an hour! That’s one well-paid router. And half the other places we went to were out of order.

    Weird that Cambodia has faster, cheaper, more reliable connections than Oz. Whoever’s managing the networks down under — get it together, people!

    A tip on unlocked phones: You can test a phone to see if it’s unlocked by asking the salesperson to put another SIM card in it — locked phones will only work with their original card. You can have a locked phone unlocked for a few dollars, but it’s often illegal and done at your own risk.

  • #17Jon

    Very cool concept and some great ideas for traveling light. I learned long ago, traveling light is traveling right!!

  • #18laura

    oh wow! i hope i someday get the time and money to travel this way! sounds so fun

  • #19James Love

    Don’t forget to trade stuff that you don’t need anymore. Both with travelers or locals.

    If you don’t need that swimsuit for those Asian beaches then trade it for someone’s light jacket. Yes, lots of people don’t care if a bathingsuit was worn by someone else. Just wash it first. LOL.

  • #20swertres hearing

    WOw, that was very informative… thanks… I enjoyed reading it…
    Ow did you eat just 1 cricket? I heard it’s pretty tasty. Haha!

  • #21terry

    I’m new but eager to get into this,

    I’m 21 and have limited income, after getting ahead on bills – what kind of cost can i expect to tour western europe? I’d like to go for atleast a month, stopping in stopping in probaly 5 different countries.

  • #22Sujan Patel

    Sounds like an awesome adventure. I went backpacking europe after college and I guess all that’s left to do now is “flashpack” with my wife. Great Idea I will definitely talk to my wife about doing this one day

  • #23Bunnygotblog

    This is a great piece.I always find traveling lite is better because I can buy as I need too.

  • #24AdventureRob

    This is how I go about too, I use my laptop in expensive hotels with free wifi in the lobby to find cheaper places to stay a night and download a map to help get around, etc.

  • #25Croatian

    Great tips Curtis !
    Good luck on your next trip.

    Bookmarked ;)

  • #26TravMonkey

    But surely you travel for some freedom and to see and experience new things? To leave everything behind back home. Not to be glued to a clue screen or cell phone constantly in touch with you life back home? Leave the technology at home…

    Not only do you have to find safe places for all your gear but it’s more likely you’ll be a target of theft.


  • #27Tony

    What a great idea, this makes perfect sense. Why pack everything you are going to need later, when you can buy something when you need it, no need to lug things around the world with you. Of course so many things are also really cheap in Asia as well.

    Great article, and I agree that a good camera (for the memories) and a laptop for keeping in touch and writing are essential. There are some great calling cards these days (I use almostfreephonecalls.com to keep in touch with family, you can use their cards in most countries), although between MSN and Skype you can call for free. I also use Tagfoot.com for storing my bookmarks, which allows me to access them from any computer anywhere.

    I took off for a year 21 years ago, went around the world, and loved it. I would dearly love to do it again, and to experience so much that the world has to offer, instead of having to join in the rat race with everybody else.

  • #28William Wallace

    I like the idea of flash packing, however my girlfriend thinks that means to only take 2 large suitcases instead of 3…….

  • #29Jizzer

    Totally disagree, i would never bring my laptop with me on a trip, to much risk of getting lost, stollen of forgotten………….

  • #30Croatia Holidays

    Boy I sure hate to carry things around. Except for my netbook, that is :) . I can appreciate the idea completely.

  • #31offtoeurope.com

    Great post! I am off to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia this month and have decided that I will be traveling a lot lighter than I usually do. Makes a lot more sense :)

  • #32putude

    Look at the beach. Its so clean. I am curious.

  • #33Jim Jones

    Great post. I tour Thailand and Cambodia every six months to feed my website. I always travel light, just a small backpack. No laptop.
    I get a cheaper air ticket as I am walk on and there is no waiting for luggage anywhere. When I need clean clothes I just buy them, (t shirt $3
    jeans $6 and so on), I have them laundered then leave them in my last room for someone else to use.
    I carry a camera bag which has enough room inside for my smokes,passport and airline tickets and that stays round my neck 24/7. Then just a backpack and my hands are free. Once again great post.

  • #34Steve J

    Wow. I love this. I’m only 19, and in college, but I would love to do this when I get out of college. I have experience traveling for 3 weeks in Europe out of a single suitcase (two summers in a row), but I would love for a bigger challenge. I think this has pretty much set my guidelines and stands as a great example for what we really do need while on the road.

    I really appreciate this article. Thank you very much. Maybe someday, we will be flashpacking in the same place at the same time…

  • #35Robby Milo

    Hi.. It’s such a great post. After backpacking, motobackpakin (it’s what I’m doing rite now), now I know bout flashpacking

    Please let me know if u drop by at indonesia specialy at jakarta, bandung.. It will be my honoured if u could stay on my house

  • #36Scott

    Super post – really nailed all the main points. For those that haven’t considered taking a laptop on their backpacking trips, check out the nine or 10 inch mini laptops. The evil giant Wal-Mart was recently selling an Acer for $275; I picked one up and took it on the trans-Siberian. It did everything I needed it to do; wireless connection, writing tool, backed up my photos from my camera, skyped home, etc. If it ever gets busted or stolen, you’re not out a huge amount of $. And, its super light and tiny, fits almost anywhere.

  • #37Nandrin

    yes very inspiring! thanks for posting

  • #38Ian

    I just found your blog post. A few years too late. But the content is still valid!

    I’ve read so many blogs giving packing lists, all the pairs of clothes, shoes, toiletries, guidebooks.

    I agree with your packing list. You dont need shampoo and soap. They sell that stuff where you’re going. You don’t need a sleeping bag, pillow, etc. etc.

  • #39Steve

    Having studied tourism and seeing the term ‘flashpacking’ come and evolve, these kinds of articles are excellent to see.

    The fine line between flash / backpacking can be drawn along various elements (accommodation / technologies / shopping), but the truth might be that it is a little bit of everything and a touch of mentality.

    Travel is your social currency and some want to come across as am explorer (backpacker) and others want to be seen as outgoing enough to travel to some more exotic destinations, but still likes there comfort too!

    I for one would just rather be enjoying an Aussie summer (backpacking or flashpacking)than sitting in an office (or outside) for a British one!

    Thanks again for the great article!

  • #40Mellisa

    Planning is the main part of traveling, as you have to prepare yourself for the future difficulties. You have provided us with the useful ideas about packing, and also about the necessary things that should be kept in mind, when we are out of our city.


  • #41fred

    Wow…great post dude. Seems like you guys have made most outa of it!

    Although fried crickets probably wont be on my menu but its always good to find out different cultures, their ways of life and foods.


  • #42Christopher

    Great ideas. Would love to do this myself.

  • #43vrtne garniture

    We all have different views. For me it is very stressful to take laptop to a trip, holidays. For family vacation, we usually go camping to Croatia sea side. We have to take laptop because of business, but it was really stressful (laptop could be stolen, internet is expensive…)
    Travel in Kenya (safari) was also one big experience, we take digital cameras and real problems were batteries and electricity. (The best think was that on safari we messed a flight because on a petrol station, we get petrol mixed with water, so we need to pump water from a tank.)
    I prefer to take just notebook, pencils, camera with a lot of batteries and good will. I take laptop with me just when I really need it for a business.

  • #44Felix

    Excellent post – I’m sitting in my room at Siem Reap on my laptop (strangely having just had a breakfast at the Blue Pumpkin Bakery) and started to google the flashpacker movement myself, lo and behold this popped up.

    I’ve been on the road for about a month now in South-East Asia and I must say, the place is very well equipped for travelling with a laptop. An extra $2 USD per night usually gets you an air-conditioned room with free wifi and no dorm beds.

    The still-cold European spring awaits in one month, so the summer clothes are going to be given to a charity and replaced in Bangkok for jackets and jeans to go with the woollen coat I had made in Hoi An, Vietnam for $75.

    There’s nothing like living on an as-needs basis, it’s highly recommended if done sensibly and responsibly.

    Happy travels!

  • #45Lyndsay

    I just recently finished an unplanned backpacking in Southeast Asia by myself and it was a lot of fun! True to the fact that it change you, so change is really inevitable I should agree now. Flashpacking will be interesting, in a way I was flashpacking but only for a short period of time due to the water is running dry (I mean, my budget…lol). Now, I am back to work, I reckon I will have to open my eyes for money maker tools that I can use in the future to keep travelling!

  • #46Greg Wesson

    I have only been travelling since the early 2000s, but it is amazing the changes both that I have gone through, but also the world has gone through, since I started travelling.

    My first big trip was to South American in 2003. Things are a lot different than back than. I took with me clothes, a load of travellers cheques, a film camera, 9 rolls of film and 3 different travel guides. Nowadays, I travel with a digital camera, iPod, USB flash drive, laptop and mobile phone, but leave both travellers cheques and travel guides at home. Why bring TCs when one can take out money from any ATM, and why bring heavy books when you can google information on your phone or laptop?

    Not sure if I am just becoming a flashpacker as I get older, or if the whole world is just becoming flashpackers as a whole.

  • #47Sam

    How much money do you recommend?

  • #48Avia

    So “flashbacker” is just Newspeak for “wealthy backpacker,” then?

    Huh. I didn’t realize we needed a special term for that.

  • #49AdventureRob

    Flashpacking is hardly new, and probably more common then what people may traditionally think of as backpacking now to be honest. Nothing wrong with it, it’s backpacking evolved. If you want an adventure, leave it all at home and take a daysack with a change of underwear in, that soon gets tiring though, and you have no one to tell your adventures too either.

  • #50Ali Elle

    I agree that flashpacking isn’t particularly new, but the word and specific categorizing of it certainly is.

  • #51Summer travels

    I have this dream, to take off for a long time travel. I haven’t made any plans of what I would take off with me, but one thing goes in my mind. To pack in my backpack only some basic stuff and think about everithing else on the road.

  • #52AnitaMac

    Couldn’t agree more! It is the way to go. When I first went RTW, I got mugged my first week – lost a bunch of stuff. Learned then and there the way to go – buy as you need! Saves dealing with all the junk! Lesson 2 – post office is your friend! If you buy something you just have to have (ie: giant llama wool blanket) – post it! That blanket would have taken all the space in my pack. Posted it to dad – all these years later, I still love cozying up under my blanket when it gets cold. Great souvenir – I still remember the day I bought it!
    Great post. You hit the nail on the head!

  • #53RtwTravel

    Couldnt agree more with the last comment on your travel blog. Too much technology is heavy, and can put you at risk. Although a little makes your journey more pleasurable.

  • #54Baron's

    What a wonderful blog…I sure learned a lot from this post and agree that flashpacking is the way to go….makes total sense…a lot of food for thought here…here is a joke for ya since you’ve been on the road so long…you might enligthen us all with your answer:
    If 2 out of 5 travelers suffer from diarrhea does that mean 3 out of five actually enjoy it?
    Cheers…keep up the good work with your posts.

  • #55Carol Ann

    Love your article and you have inspired me to leave 95% of what I usually take – at home. As long as I have my computer, a camera,and 2 changes of clothes I figure I will be just fine. A number of years ago I spent 3 months backpacking around Central America and was quite proud of myself that my pack only weighed 18 lbs. Now I think that may be too much.

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