Planning for Travel: Here We Go Again.

So. Hubby and I off again this winter, my friends. Not travelling, but planning for travel. Not leaving home just yet, except through the magic of the internet, in our imaginations, and in our conversations over our morning tea. We’re just getting started, and I thought I’d write about the process we use to plan a trip, as we go along. We’ve refined what we do so that it’s pretty much the same every time, now. Keep in mind we are NOT professionals; we’ve just found what works for us.

The first thing I will say, is that travel planning is a ton of work. A lot of reading, asking questions, numerous e-mails, and seemingly endless discussions before we’re ready to make our bookings.

Planning for travel. Our visit to southern Patagonia in 2017.
Grinning in Argentina, 2017.

We could, easily enough, offload that onto a travel agent who would do the work for us. And we did do that in the past when we were relative newbies to the travel thing.

For our first trip to New Zealand and Australia in 2003, we used a travel agent from Goway who specialized in trips downunder. Our agent Audrey was great. We did our reading first. I shouldn’t say “we.” Mostly it was Hubby since I was still working. He chose a bunch of things he thought we’d love to do, and I mostly looked up from my marking and said, “Sounds wonderful.”

Audrey helped us plan a 3-month itinerary which incorporated all the things Hubby had decided, and a couple she suggested. She booked all flights and cars for us, several short package tours which we chose from their booklets (a three-day outback safari from Alice Springs, our Cains/Great Barrier Reef package, and the resort where we spent four wonderful days in the Cook Islands enroute to New Zealand. That stop-over was a necessity for me. We left home less than a week after my semester ended, during which time I had to shop, and pack, and tie up loose ends at work, and I needed some time to de-stress. Audrey also booked our first night’s accommodation when we flew into a new place (Auckland, Melbourne, Hobart etc.) and our hotel in Sydney for the last four days of our trip.

The rest of the time, we used local travel information sites and booked our hotels and motels a couple of days in advance. We were so happy that we did this. Our least favourite (and most expensive) places to stay were the ones booked by our agent. The local information sites were wonderful, and we met, and yakked up a storm, with lots of lovely people. We stayed in quirky motels, and cabins in camp grounds (or caravan parks) that we’d never have known about otherwise. We even booked a wonderful cottage in the Grampian Mountains because the local lady turned and asked her colleague, “Isn’t Ed renting out his place this season?” He was. And later that afternoon, we were able to pop our clothes in Ed’s washing machine, and step out Ed’s back door straight onto a hiking trail.

Planning for travel. When we stayed over the pub in Georgetown, Tasmania, 2003.
Staying over the pub in Georgetown, Tasmania, 2003.

That first big trip in 2003 whetted our appetite and gave us much needed experience. We learned a lot during our numerous consultations with Audrey. And over the years, we found our courage and little by little began to steer our own ship, so to speak.

We realized that planning for travel, especially an extended, multi-destination trip, is the same process we used planning a new course when we were still teaching. Read, read, read, and research first. Set goals. Map out the big picture. How many weeks in total, where to start, where to end, and where to go in between. How many days will we need in each place? Where will we stay? We rough all this out. Then we book our flights and cars. And last we book our accommodations. Sounds easy, eh?

Planning a trip is easy, especially with the aid of the internet, if you don’t mind doing a lot of work. Much of which has to take place up front. The world is a big, big place. Where do we want to go? And why? Those are the questions we ask ourselves first.

It’s funny when I think about it. Hubby and I always end up liking the same kinds of places. But we decide where we want to go for very different reasons. He’s driven by a love of geography and wild places, and his knowledge of history. Me, well, I’ve usually read about a place in a book. Or it has some relationship to literature, or fashion. Or a personal connection for me. Hemingway’s apartment, and Shakespeare and Company, in Paris. The Brontë Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire. Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace in Wellington, New Zealand. Tralee in Southern Ireland where my ancestors emigrated from in 1819. Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Well, you get the idea.

Because we usually have different ideas of the places we most want to go, we try to alternate who chooses where we’re going next. South America in 2017 was Hubby’s trip. Italy was my choice since I’d never been. We both wanted to see some of eastern Europe, so the Balkans was a mutual choice. And this next one, Africa, is Hubby’s. He has long wanted to go. And we decided we’d better get our act together, and just go. We’re not getting any younger. Ha.

So what are we doing first? Well, we’re reading and researching. The first thing we do is to read as many guide books on our potential destination as the library has to offer. Then we choose one book to buy. Last year we read several books on the Balkans, and eventually settled on the Rick Steves guide to Slovenia and Croatia. I highly recommend this guide. You can find the updated 2020 version here. We found Steves very outspoken in his opinions. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. In fact we opted to take several of his back road routes, and they made our trip much more memorable. We do love our back roads. Some guide books offer little in the way of opinions, instead giving only objective information, or saying only positive things, and you really have to read between the lines.

Planning for travel. Our stack of guide books.
A small stack of our travel guides from over the years.

We’re also talking to people whom we know and trust, who have been where we want to go. Actually that is often our first job. Who has been where, what did they do, and do they have an itinerary?

Last year we started with an itinerary from old friends who had been to the Balkans a couple of years before. We’ve used their itineraries as our initial planning tool for several trips. They travel a lot, and often to places we’d like to go as well. But we have realized over the years that their priorities, while similar in many ways, are also different in others. It’s really important to understand the rationale behind someone else’s choices. When someone says, “You can’t go to blank without seeing or doing blank,” always try to understand why they say that.

Our friends are more given to stay in large cities (for instance, Budapest and Split) and more interested in museums and galleries than we are. That’s fine. Everyone has their own reasons for travel. We’ve learned to take on what is helpful for us, and leave the rest. Last year, we visited Split for the day, but stayed in a small place near Trogir, and were very happy that we chose to substitute Zagreb for Budapest.

Once we’ve begun to identify some places of interest, we ask lots and lots of questions. Months before our Balkan trip, I was e-mailing my friend Frances who had visited Croatia twice in recent years, and Dottoressa who lives in Zagreb. They both helped us decide what we wanted to do. It was Frances who suggested Trogir rather than Split… and Dottoressa who suggested we stay inland on Istria which lead to our idyllic few days in Motovun.

Oddly enough, one thing we’ve learned quite recently is that many people are loathe to say anything negative about a trip they have taken. Once home it seems that a certain amount of amnesia sets in. In hindsight, everything was wonderful, everywhere was amazing. Yes, you absolutely should see this or that. It was only after we returned from Italy and described some of the negative experiences we’d had that friends admitted, “Yes, that was unpleasant wasn’t it?” Whatever we were complaining about had happened to them too. So, you see, it’s not just guide books that gloss over the possible glitches. This made me value the information we received from Frances and Dottoressa even more than before.

Looking back on El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina. 2017.
Hindsight can be forgetful. Southern Patagonia, Argentina, 2017.

So, as I said we are in the reading, reading, dreaming stage of planning our Africa trip.

We’re consulting two itineraries from two sets of friends. They are quite different trips, which is interesting. We’ve ordered a stack of guides from the library. And we were sent a really interesting and valuable link to a planning site by a hockey-golfing buddy of Hubby’s who has been to Africa several times. And we’ve been casually googling various safari packages. Ooh… that is a dangerous thing to do, people. Dangerous in that it’s way too early to get excited.

And… of course… we’re chatting every morning over our first couple of cups of tea. And dreaming of places we might be seeing in real life this time next year.

Once we have entered the information overload part of the planning process, we’ll be ready to choose a route, pick places, and move on from there. I’ll get back to you on that in the weeks to come.

Now, what about you, my friends? Do you have a planning for travel process ? Or do you prefer to leave it to the professionals?

P.S The travel guide link is an affiliate link. If you buy something after clicking on it I will earn a commission.

Joining Catherine this week at #ShareAllLinkup


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From the archives


Planning for Travel: Here We Go Again.

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46 thoughts on “Planning for Travel: Here We Go Again.”

  1. We plan our trips in a very similar way. I absolutely love the Rick Steve’s guidebooks and also his show on PBS. Many of the places we have chosen to travel have been been chosen after watching a particularly interesting RS episode. We are presently planning a trip to Portugal in April but Africa has been on my wish list too.

    1. We sometimes watch his shows on PBS as well. I have a couple of friends who swear by the Rick Steves tours too. They are not for us, but for people who don’t want to organize their own trips… they are small and really the best way to do a package tour.

  2. I like your comment that “hindsight can be forgetful”. I think our minds smooth over the rough edges as time passes. Some of the biggest negatives of our wilderness travel have made these trips legendary to our travel group. We can’t get together without fondly telling the stories over and over, a real negative for new comers to the group. A negative for one can be a positive for another.

    We do a lot of wilderness travel but the planning process is not so different. We do web searches, blog reading, you tube videos, hiking guides and seeking out friends who have been there, done that. If it is a “city” trip we do similar substituting city guides for hiking guides.

    1. Wilderness adventures gone wrong make the best stories. But we do try to remember things as they were and not turn our trips into a travel brochure. It sometimes seems that people don’t want to admit they made a mistake in choosing a place or an event.

  3. Well, as the reader above I’d like to go Portugal, possibly a river cruise to Porto ( I love being pampered) and maybe hop over to Spain so hubby can do the pilgrimage. But, I have always wanted to go to Africa (and the Nile) and specifically on safari (shades of Out of Africa). I am driven to places by what I’ve read and from films, hence our 2005 trip to England to see my Jane Austen sites, where she was born, lived and died. Heaven! Meanwhile , hubby was fly fishing the River Test for two of his dreams. We’d meet at night in the pub where we stayed and compare notes. That trip took a LOT of planning. Who knew the best fishing was in Jane Austen country. And, my husband recognized the Hampshire landscape from Watership Down. Our last trip was to Burgandy and Provence in the fall, just wonderful. I am looking forward to all your thoughts and notes for the Africa trip. Maybe in two years.
    To answer your question, if I’m familiar with the country I do all the planning. If I’m unsure then I’ll have a travel agent help. But the best parts of the trips are those we plan ourselves.

    1. I’ve done 3 segments of the Camino de Santiago, and it’s magical. I hope your hubby gets to do it as well! My hubby doesn’t hike (bad back) so he drove the rental car and we would meet at the end of my walking day at our chosen destination – he had a wonderful time exploring and I had a great time walking.

    2. We’ve talked about Portugal as well, Cindy Lou. We met two young people in Slovenia this year from Portugal and chatted with them a lot. I love to do the literary pilgrimage thing. I enjoyed Bath so much more than my friend when we were there in 2017. She’s not an Austen fan, so we split up and went our own way for a day… both of us much happier.

  4. We have had a lot of success using travel agents who specialize in one area; often they are still located in that area, but sometimes they just used to live there. At first we did this because while working we were too busy to plan vacations, and now we do it because the local specialists know lots of things that we likely would not find on our own. We also like the Rick Steves guides, so I often will the consult those before engaging in several long conversations with the travel agent about what types of things we like to see and do. Also, neither my husband nor I has the patience or desire to do as much planning is you and your husband do.

    1. We used a travel agent for part of our trip to South America in 2017. Hubby and I did our own organization in the Argentina part of the trip. But since we did not want to drive in Peru a travel agent in Arequipa (her agency had been recommended) cobbled together an itinerary for us that included all the things we wanted to do and see. It was tailor made for us and worked seamlessly. I’m not sure that we would have had as much success with an agent here in Canada. With e-mail we could be in contact with Karla daily before we left. Plus she was on the ground in Peru if anything went wrong when we were there.

  5. I have been to South Africa, but it was 20 years ago, mainly to visit family. We stayed at Kruger National Park for 3 nights and had a wonderful. It is a very beautiful country but they had significant problems with crime. I am not sure what it is like today but back then men shopping with their families in Johannesburg carried small guns in holsters quite openly. Coming from Australia I found this very disturbing. I look forward to hearing about your trip.

  6. Travel was always very important to Max & I . We began in Europe & moved on as more money became available . I did all the planning , hubby did all the driving but he was allowed input ! Our first long haul was to Africa . A full two weeks safari with driver in Kenya which was actually Max’s choice but It was the most wonderful experience . The country is incredibly beautiful but the animals made it – to be so close to such wonderful creatures , tears ran down my cheeks at times . South African safaris followed but with family driving ( my sister lives there ) & I have to say , the professional drivers track the animals better . They know their stuff . That’s my main tip , you need a good driver . There are lots of beautiful birds too & a good bird book/app could add to the experience . Other than that , don’t expect a morning lie in . Those animals get up early .
    As you know our holiday hearts are in Scotland now . We’ve just given my nephew & partner an itinerary for a Scottish week in February . All new to them – they better love it

    1. Oh… you did have to mention birds. Stu loves birds. I’ll have to buy a big hat so I can hide under the brim. Ha.
      We’re definitely NOT going to drive ourselves when doing the safari thing. I have romantic ideas of 4-wheel drive vehicles, luxury tents, and a G&T at sunset.

  7. I find the Travel Forum area of Trip Advisor a great way to research before a trip. They have Forums set up for almost every destination. People post their itineraries and trip reports which really helps understand the why of certain areas and sites (not just the musts). And, if you have a question there are so many kind and generous people who take the time to provide accurate and in-depth answers!
    I’m heading to Greece this summer with my mother and have started with Rick Steve’s guide. But, I go to the Travel Forum at TA for the nitty gritty:)

    1. Yes, we’ve used the forums on Trip Advisor. I used them in 2015 to look up the apartment rental company we were using. And last year we used TA with rather less success when plotting a route into Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still all information goes into the hopper before we make a decision.

  8. Usually when I return from a trip, I focus on all the things that went wrong, for example, going to Paris this summer for 9 days and being sick with a bad cold and sore throat for the last 3 days! Yuck! But now that time has passed, I fondly remember our trip, all the sites, just loving the Louvre, Eifel Tower, etc. And just the general romantic air of the place! when we traveled to Ireland two years ago to visit relatives on my father’s side whom I had never met, I was just overwhelmed with all the sites and castles, so my husband took over and planned the entire trip and we had a wonderful time! Obviously, my husband is better at the actual planning and we both get to pick the sites we want to visit.

    1. Travel planning can be really overwhelming, can’t it? We limit ourselves to a bit of everything. Like in the Loire area we chose two chateaux, based on the recommendation of our host. Anymore and we were afraid we’d get totally sick of the chateaux experience. Same with castles in Scotland. We chose three that I felt I really wanted to see… mostly connected with books or plays I’d read. I didn’t want the experience to become a blur in my mind.

  9. How exciting! That will be a wonderful trip. I worked as a travel agent right after college while I was looking for other work. Ever since then, I’ve booked things on my own. I’m planning a trip to Amsterdam with my youngest two and have just booked our museums and a side trip to Belgium (hotels and flights were booked long ago.) I use Pinterest a lot to plan as there are so many helpful people offering advice.

    1. I’ve used Pinterest too. I remember being in Amsterdam in 1988 with a girlfriend. I was overwhelmed by Anne Frank House. Just a little empty house with a movable bookcase, but it literally vibrated with emotion for me. I wonder if it’s been tarted up for the tourists since then?

  10. I travel much like you and your husband. Mostly independently with some local organized tours here and there. I love the planning phase of a trip. I especially enjoy looking for experiences away from the main tourist activities.
    I am so excited for you that you a going to Africa. I have been twice in the last several years and both trips were highlights in my many years of travel.
    Three years ago my sister and I did a private safari in Tanzania. I am glad we choose a private safari as we could control our time and had some wonderful conversations with our guide. We used a mid range operator and were very happy with the accommodations, the vehicle, and our guide.
    Last year two friends and I went to Ethiopia and Uganda. The primary goal of the trip was to trek to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda, an absolutely amazing experience. The other activity we did in Uganda that I would highly recommend is an overnight visit to Ngamba Island, a chimp sanctuary. We added Ethiopia as an extension to the trek and I am so glad we did. Ethiopia was absolutely fascinating both culturally and historically. If you are interested in Ethiopia be aware that the tourist infrastructure is not as built up as in other countries so I would not recommend traveling independently here.
    If you would like any further information please feel free to contact me.

    1. Your trips sound amazing. We have pretty much settled on South Africa, although I am really intrigued by Tanzania. If we decide on Tanzania I will certainly get in touch, Lynn. We met a lovely woman at a party recently who is from Tanzania. She is also a good contact if we decide to go there.

  11. Ana Helguera Líbano

    Hi Sue:
    I have been following you for a long time, but as my English is quite poor I don´t dare to comment. We did a wonderful trip to Africa 5 years ago. We went to Okavango Grassland in Botswana, where we had a private safari sleeping in tents (the best part of it, without any doubt). We visited too Chobe National Park (where we could fish) ant Victoria Falls (if you go there, having dinner in the Royal Livingstone Victoria Falls Zambia Hotel, just over the river, it´s absolutly Out of Africa, lol).
    This travel was my husband dream since his childhood, and when we got married he promised to make it when our first were seventeen. To organize it we got in touch with a local agency in an International Turism Fair, as what was offered to us in the usual travel agencies war too adventurous or too honeymoon like. If you are considering this area please, let me know. I could send you more detailed information or pictures to figure it out.
    As for how we plan our trips, lately we focus on blogs like yours!!! Your trip to South America has been quite inspiring, and we will probably do it as soon as we retire

    1. That sounds wonderful, Ana. Too honeymoon is a great description of some of the packages we’ve seen. I’m not really interested in going to Africa for a “spa experience.”
      P.S. Please do not feel shy about commenting. It just gets easier the more you do it. 🙂

  12. Our travel planning is much like yours except that I do most of it and hubby goes along! He’s always very appreciative though. It’s a lot of work, but I find planning half the fun of traveling. We did a package tour when we went to Israel a few years ago as I was a bit concerned about safety there, but I did a lot of research before I chose a tour that I knew would work for us. On the other hand, we’ve wandered places like Vietnam on the seat of our pants and had a fantastic time. Can’t wait to hear all about your Africa adventure! Our next trip will probably be revisiting Japan where we lived for a year or exploring the eastern United States.

    1. I think that some places warrant a package tour of some sort. We integrated package bits and pieces into our South America trip. For when we knew we’d be tired of driving.

  13. Our trip planning adventures are always interesting. We have our things as well: I need history/culture and my Hubby requires nature of all sorts. So we plan to try and balance those two things. We rent cars and book accommodations ourselves. I should say, Hubby does that. I buy a travel guide and skim through for ideas. He uses the Internet.
    Our most recent trip, to Haida Gwaii, was a long time dream for me. So much beautiful nature and culture. What we learned is that the community is creating a tourism industry there. It’s not as easy to find places to eat or sleep, and that was a bit frustrating at times. But once we figured it out, we were happy. If anyone on here is considering going there, check out “Haida Gwaii: a Guide to BCs Islands of the People” written by a relative local. Filled with personal tips and hints, we learned so much from it. Even where to find the most off path paths. John Vaillant’s “The Golden Spruce” is another must-read about the history of the area.
    Hope you have a great time in Africa. Can’t wait to hear all about it.

    1. I remember your visit to Haida Gwaii, Alicia. It looked wonderful. I read that the New York Times had Haida Gwaii on their list of 52 places in the world to see.

  14. Research and planning is a lot of work, but I absolutely love it. Not a linear process for me at all, but there’s usually some sort of method to my circular madness. Africa is extremely high on my bucket list, but barely on Hubby’s at all — I think our next “big” trip will likely be to Vietnam, while I continue to plug the wonderful aspects of Africa :~).
    Another strategy I use for planning, in addition to travel forum research and borrowing travel books from the library, is to scour the websites of travel operators for sample itineraries for their mapping of routes and to check out lodging, etc. Also, for unique excursions and experiences, because it is always possible to book similar experiences on your own.
    Happy planning!!

  15. I would like to put in a good word for The Dashir Lodge in Arusha area of Tanzania for their Safari experiences. Darryl and Shirley are a Canadian couple from Manitoba who fell in love with Africa and have moved there, creating a Lodge and Safari expeditions out onto the Serengeti, with the possibilities of seeing rural schools, orphanages, Masai Villages, hikes on Kilimanjaro, trip to Olduvai Gorge, stays at Lodges out on the Serengeti(some rustic, all wonderful in their way), jeeps driven by the most wonderful Masai drivers who are so knowledgeable about every animal’s habitat and habits and seemingly have a compass in their heads as to where they are in the vast wilderness of the plain, etc… Dashir arranged a side trip to Zanzibar, Chobe in Botswana for a water safari, Victoria Falls, etc…they will customize to one’s desires… I would return in a heartbeat. They are helping the local Masai that they hire by training them and giving back to medical, educational, and social programs. It is 4 years since I was there but the images remain vibrant.

  16. Oh, Sue … I don’t doubt that your African trip will shape up to be something typically Sue/Stu fun and lovely for us to read about.

    I just finished making my 2020 travel plans, and it’s a mixture one I-hope-I-still-have-enough-knees-left-for-this-kind-of-trip (adventuring in the Russian Far East), a couple of writing workshops/retreats, visits with family and lifelong friends, Mardi Gras (two weeks), and a long, cushy, restful, spa-ish transatlantic cruise on my favorite cruise line (Silversea).

    As a new widow I’m learning how to travel with friends or to travel alone; I like both approaches. Some of my best future travel ideas come from other experienced travelers I meet along the way. The only problem is my bucket list is getting longer and longer!

    1. I love the sound of your year in travel, Ann. Especially that Russian trip. Good for you to get out there, so to speak. Must be so hard after the death of your husband. But from the little you said about him in previous comments, I’ll bet he’s in your head cheering you on. You are an inspiration to those of us who dread having to deal with the loss of a spouse.

  17. Thank you for mentioning me,Sue
    Wow,Africa! How exciting and wonderful! And one of the best part of the trip is planning,isn’t it?
    I started with a couple of organized trips (like Sardinia and Corsica,later Greece-no knowledge of the language and,more important,can’t read their alphabet-,Mozart Festival in Salzburg-the tickets were more avaliable this way….),than I went on with only hotel reservations (travel agent was an acquaintance and prices were better this way) and
    for last 15 years,I plan and make all the resevations myself (with a couple of exceptions similar to those mentioned before)
    Have a wonderful time planning and traveling!

    1. We just heard back from an agency that friends of ours have used on several trips to Africa. Without our friend’s recommendation we would never have found them. They sent us 5 sample itineraries for our safari adventure. I’m avoiding looking at them today because I know I won’t get anything else done. Ha.

  18. Thanks for the mention, Sue. And Wow! That’s an exciting trip to plan for! And one where abundant planning would be necessary. . . .
    Our travel plans are much more modest this year. I’m taking a week-long workshop/course in Sicily, and then Paul will join me and we’ll spend three weeks getting to know the island until our kids and grandkids come to join us for a week in a citrus grove! I do most of the research and planning for our travel, although I delegate a few tasks (car rental, when we do that, as we certainly will this trip). I think we’re less organized than you two, or at least we plan to leave some elements to chance, deliberately. But part of that difference might be that we’ve been travelling through countries and cities we’ve got to know quite well, so we can afford to be more relaxed. . . Exciting privilege we have, though, this travel, isn’t it?!

    1. Definitely a privilege, that’s for sure. One most members of my family have never had, so I feel very lucky to be able to do what we do. Your time in Sicily sounds lovely, kind of like what you did in Croatia where your family joined you for a week. Best of everything, I’d say. Family time, together time with just you and Paul, and your retreat/workshop week on your own. Is this a writing workshop? If so please tell all about it. I’d love to do something like that one day.

  19. Hi Sue, South Africa is a fabulous country! My 16 day trip was organized by John Lawrence, Big Blue Sky tours recommended by a Cape Town expat. Itinerary based on a ‘too expensive for me’ group garden tour. John as the driver & guide and I did Cape Town, the Winelands, the Klein Karoo to Addo Elephant Park & back to CT via the Garden Route – 2000 + kilometres. All inclusive for an unbelievable & unbeatable price! Less than half of the group garden tour. The main focus was gardens & spring wild flowers so it was so wonderful to have John stop whenever wherever caught my attention. Imagine calla lillies growing wild & abundantly as purple loosestrife along the roads! Anyhoo, check John out! Next time, luxurious safari for sure! BTW, Instagram brings the pleasure & beauty of SA on a day basis!
    PS, enjoy your IG posts & blog! Very Much!

  20. We went to South Africa (safari and Cape Town) for two weeks this past summer. It had been on our bucket list and several friends had been to Africa. We would go back in a heartbeat. So magnificent to see the animals. More on our list to see but surely would include Africa again. And the G & T’s for “sundowners” were fine!

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