Traveled the World - India

How I’ve Traveled the World for 18 Years

Derek Personal Stuff, Travel Costs, Travel Tips & Advice 56 Comments

Traveled the World - India
It might sound unbelievable but I’ve actually traveled the world for 18 years without doing anything special.

When I started my travels in 1999, I was about as much of an ultra-budget backpacker as one could possibly be. All of my simple belongings easily fit into my original 44 liter durable Kelty Redwing backpack, to begin with. Combine that with a travel style that involved nothing more than constant on the go planning, hostel dorm rooms and trying to do everything without spending any money at all, and that pretty much sums up my first couple of years on the road.

It was a glorious period of my travels.

With nothing to worry about and nothing to look up online before I moved on to the next destination, I was free to simply be present every minute of every day, wherever I happened to find myself and without being locked in to anything.

All I did during those initial years of travel was rely on conversations with other travelers and with locals. That was all it took to find accommodation, places to eat, the local bus station, things to do and so on. I also had very few, if any, responsibilities. So I was happily able to accept whatever happened to me each day and wherever I ended up without any worries at all.

Of course, I had very little money to spend too as I was earning almost nothing most of the time.

Traveled the World - Bagan

But that was a time before the internet boom, a time when we weren’t constantly bombarded with “Top 10 Things to Do in Guatemala” or “Where You MUST Travel Next” posts popping up everywhere. There were no checklists or bucket lists. It didn’t matter what you saw or what you ate as you traveled the world. Just ‘being’ there was enough. The rewards came on their own.

SUMMARY 1999 – 2002

Travel Style: Ultra-budget backpacker
Income: Teaching English, volunteering (no income but no expenses), short stint in the US as a substitute teacher


The Cruise Ship Years

About 2 years into my travels, life took an unexpected path.

I ended up working on board cruise ships as a Tour Manager. It all happened out of nowhere after a friend recommended I work on ships and I was put in touch with a contact at the head office of Carnival Cruise Lines.

Suddenly, I was earning and saving good money while working 4-6 month contracts, seeing dozens of new places, gaining some excellent managerial work experience, meeting tons of new people and then enjoying long vacations in between contracts where I was able to travel to lands far and wide. It seemed too good to be true – saving money while catching a glimpse of Caribbean islands, Hawaii, Norwegian fjords and Iceland, Italy, Spain and Greece, Central America, Canada and ports as far off as Auckland, New Zealand, American Samoa and Cochin, India.

Traveled the world - cruise ship

It was an ideal set up. In fact, I ended up working on ships for about 4.5 years over an 8 year period. Eventually, I resigned from ‘ship life’ in 2008 simply because the set up was too good. If I didn’t get out then, I was going to be stuck on ships forever. And while I loved the lifestyle and the benefits, I also had other things I wanted to achieve in life that required me to be on land.

SUMMARY 2002 – 2008

Travel Style: Cruise ship crew member / budget backpacker during vacations
Income: Monthly salary during my contracts / able to save 90% of what I earned


The Online Years

After I finally decided to end my cruise ship career in 2008, it was right around the time when the initial whispers about ‘working online’ began to surface. So, I finished my last ship contract and took off for a 6-month visit to Melbourne, Australia, where I decided to rent a room in a shared house and give this working online thing a try.

I hunkered down and spent several months writing an eBook designed to help cruise ship passengers enhance their cruise vacations, using all of the knowledge I gained working in the industry.

A couple of hours after publishing the finished product online, I sold my first copy. I couldn’t believe it.

So, I sat down to write a second eBook with a friend. We completed it in two months but this one didn’t work. It never sold.

I then chose to experiment with the world of affiliate marketing after coming across Affilorama’s detailed course, and I soon found some success. There certainly wasn’t much competition back then so it was easier to make progress more quickly with this kind of work.

Traveled the world - working in Tanzania

With these two (small) successes under my belt, I decided to travel around Thailand, India and Central America for a few months and then spend eight weeks living in Sayulita, Mexico to figure out the next step. This was in 2010.

And while in this small, quiet Mexican town, right in between surfing sessions that involved 94% painful crashes and 6% actual wave riding, that’s when I started WanderingEarl.com.

Over the next 1.5 years, I would then work nonstop on the blog, unsure of where it would lead but truly enjoying every minute I spent on the site and associated social media. My motivation grew to the point where, after receiving so many questions from readers of the blog interested in working on cruise ships as well, I sat down and wrote another eBook, naturally called, How to Work on Cruise Ships.

At the beginning of 2012, I completed my third eBook, How to Live a Life of Travel, which I released on the blog soon after.

And so my online work began to grow.

SUMMARY 2008 – 2012

Travel Style: Medium-budget backpacker
Income: Sales of three eBooks, affiliate marketing, blogging


The Recent Years

At the end of 2012, I offered my first Wandering Earl Tour. This tour to India sold out in less than 2 days. Then in 2013, I offered 3 trips, one to Mexico and two to India.

After seeing the interest in and success of these first few tours, I decided to put more energy into this aspect of my work. And now over the past couple of years I’ve been offering anywhere from 6-10 trips per year, to over a dozen destinations. I’ve also organized many private tours to various countries for families and groups of friends.

Given the continued positive feedback of all these trips, as well as the number of repeat customers I’ve had, I’ve decided to offer 15 small group trips in total for 2018. (More about these trips in a post next week!)

Traveled the World - Wandering Earl Tours

In addition to the tours, I still have some affiliate links on my blog as a way to earn some extra income. An example of this is my Travel Gear page. On occasion, I also work with various travel-related companies in a partnership format where I earn a certain amount of money in exchange for promoting their product or service. I don’t do this often though as I’m quite picky about what I promote. My goal is to promote something that is truly valuable and useful for those who follow the blog and social media, not to simply earn as much money as I can by promoting anything that comes my way. I actually turn down 95% of the offers that appear in my inbox.

The last way I earn some money right now is through consulting.

I’ve worked with over a dozen travel bloggers as well as a few dozen tourism-related businesses and organizations (guesthouses, tour operators, tourism boards, etc.) by providing them with a detailed strategy to help them achieve their goals based on my extensive knowledge of the industry. It’s a fun side gig as I really enjoy working with such diverse people and constantly learning what’s happening all over the world in terms of travel trends, blog ideas, business ideas and tourism campaigns.

SUMMARY 2012 – 2017

Travel Style: Medium-budget local travel / Mix of semi-organized travels, spontaneous trips and the tours I lead
Income: eBook sales, affiliate marketing, partnerships, Wandering Earl Tours, consulting


My Travels Today

These days, I no longer backpack around in the same way I used to when I first traveled the world 18 years ago. I could blame it on all the information online that makes me feel as if I need to be more informed or makes me feel that I need to book everything in advance and so on, but that would be silly since I play a role in that myself. Things just change, and I’m totally cool with that. I don’t mind doing some research now, looking for the best deals and booking various aspects of my travels ahead of time.

Actually, I think the change has more to do with the responsibilities I have at this point in life – work, bills, a wonderful relationship, etc. I need to be a little more organized and I need to make sure I am able to stay as focused as possible with my current life situation and work. So if I can have some things in order before I arrive somewhere, it certainly helps me adjust more quickly and to maintain the balance I need.

Traveled the world - Seychelles

Don’t get me wrong. My girlfriend and I still do show up in certain destinations without much of a plan at all, such as with our recent visits to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary. That won’t ever change as we do love that style of travel!

But overall, we do tend to have more of a plan, or at least some bookings made. We’re still medium-budget travelers, just in a different way.

Everything evolves, including one’s needs and goals and one’s travel style. If you stay true to yourself though, there’s no reason why this should be a negative thing.

And finally, here’s the real beauty of all the above…

Not a day goes by where I don’t feel fortunate to have somehow ended up in this crazy lifestyle that involves more travel than I know what to do with. At the same time, not a day goes by where I don’t realize that my story, such as the summary above, is nothing special at all. It’s a story that anyone could live.

Determination, a willingness to constantly learn and an inability to accept anything less than the achievement of my goals is really all that was required.

Are those not things that we can all summon from within? I hear more examples of it every single day so I know it’s fully possible!

How have you made travel possible? For those starting out, any questions or ideas to share?

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Comments 56

  1. Victoria @TheBritishBerliner

    What a lovely story Earl!

    I’ve been following you since 2013 when I first started my own blog! Even so, like yourself, I started travelling much earlier in the mid 90’s when at university, I did a summer school stint for a British company that did projects in developing countries. I was intrigued and dedicated 6 months in getting an interview! Not only did I get the interview but I became the Assistant Director of the British branch helping deprived but clever children from Northern England think about going to university, and recruiting fellow graduates from Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, to help me!

    My goal was still to work abroad so I was offered the position of Regional Manager for Eastern Europe. I was told that I’d be out there for 6 weeks, and ended up living in the Czech Republic for 2 years, and that was when my life abroad began, and I never really went back “home” ever again!

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      Derek

      Hey Victoria – It’s an awesome story you have and who knows where it will lead from here! I’m sure to plenty of more adventures. That’s one of the things with this lifestyle…you really never know where it could lead as new opportunities seem to arise out of nowhere and when least expected!

  2. Tom

    An amazing, inspiring story. After losing my job 3 years ago, I entered a deep depression & had to move back in with my parents. After 2 years of lying on the couch, a friend bought me a golden retriever puppy, who I named Zeus, and he’s the only reason I’m now on the mend, doing a CELTA course, and making travel plans for a new life. However, I’m torn. Zeus literally saved my life. He’s my best friend, and I don’t know what I’d do without him. But I know taking him with me will probably make things much harder. I guess I’m looking for a little advice on whether I should take him with me, or perhaps initially leave him with my parents. They’re loving people, but they’re very old, and they’ve already shown themselves not really capable of looking after him properly.

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      Derek

      Hey Tom – That’s a tough one but in the end, you’re the only one that can make that situation. I guess you simply need to choose the option that feels right to you. Traveling with a dog is more difficult, but not impossible. And traveling without your dog would be easier of course. The good thing is that you’re in a position to get out there into the world and have one hell of an adventure so whichever you choose, you should definitely be happy to be in such a position at this point!

  3. Izy Berry

    If this isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what else is. I guess you have that 94 % of wave-crashing to thank all this for. Otherwise, you might have enjoyed surfing too much and decided not to write at all! Lol. Such a good 18 years! I wish you success as you continue living the nomad life!

  4. Serhat Engul

    Unbelievable lifestyle. We all dream about it, but very few of us can do it. It’s truly inspiring story Derek! Thank you for sharing with us!

  5. Linda Freund

    Your life is a beautiful story which I came upon just 5 years ago. You encouraged me to get out there again, and felt the confidence to do so. India was on my list, I have not made it there, but thanks for the encouragement to travel to exotic places. I am not dead yet!! Up until 5 years ago, ,my travels were comfortable and easy on cruise ships, as I live in Florida. This year, I’ve risked my comfort zone and planes took me further. I made it to Bali and met up with my son, which is still running through my veins and memory (why I am up so early). Of all the places I have traveled in the world, the best place I’ve been to which swells deep in my heart is “family”. Made me smile to see your lovely photo of you and your girlfriend. I am here to wish you many blessed memories. Happiness to you.

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      Derek

      Hey Linda – That’s such a beautiful comment and I’m really happy that the blog was able to play even a small role in helping you gain the confidence to get out there and travel again. And to hear that you’re heading out of your comfort zone now…congratulations!! I’m sure you’ll make it to India at some point as well! Wishing you much continued happiness as well!

  6. Justin

    Always happy to see pictures of your travels and I’m glad to see you’re still making the most out of life! Hope to share another beer with you one day!

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  7. Kat

    So jealous! You’re living my dream life… one day maybe! Being scared of not being able to support myself once I start is definitely the biggest thing holding me back.

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      Derek

      Hey Kat – Definitely understandable and it can be quite scary. I guess the best thing is to learn about other people’s stories of how they made it happen to the point where you get comfortable and confident enough to try it on your own.

  8. net connelly

    Great life! I enjoyed reading this blog. It inspired me to travel one month per year and to get rid some of my worldly possessions. Thank you for sharing your adventures. Take care!

  9. Pingback: What's Inside A Full-Time Traveler's Suitcase - Wandering Earl

  10. Ray

    You were saving 90% of your monthly salary from working on Cruise Ships? No wonder you were able to enjoy it so much! Usually, you hear people suggesting teaching ESL in South Korea as a great way to kick off a lifestyle of travel as the pay is decent and accommodations are usually provided for free of charge.

  11. Ali

    I absolutely loved reading your experiences. Incredible article. Also great photos. “Especially the first one”. What an amazing view. Wow! I have to admit that me and my wife are always the same when it comes to planning. Its either last minute or no planning at all. And all the time the ones with no planning turns out the best trips ever.

    You are a true inspiration for a lot of travelers. Thank you again.

  12. Eoin

    Love the break down, always liked how you were travelling for so long before the blog, showing there are a lot of ways to do it without being a blogger :)! Even though I started my own now

  13. Paul

    Just a short comment. Over the years you have motivated me to take risks, to shut up and listen, to admire and definitely appreciate a country’s, culture, history and personal stories of the people I have met through my own travels. If it had not been for you and your positive attitude, I would not have left the safe confines of my ordinariness on the West Coast and traveled to live and work teaching English in a small town in the Czech Republic. I have you to thank for that. My friends thought I was insane, and maybe I am a little bit, but I like it. As I entered the twilight of my little dance on this earth I took the plunge and it has made a difference in my outlook. I am back now, but I still feel the itch to get up, get out and discover. I may be creaky but, as Willie Nelson said, “I woke up not dead again.” Thanks for allowing me to journey with you these past years.
    –paul

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      Derek

      Hey Paul – That’s really great to hear and I’m happy you had that experience in CZ! If your friends thought you were insane, then you were probably doing something right!

  14. Katie

    Oh how I miss those early traveling days, when you’d rock up in a place with zero plan and a 2nd hand ‘On a Shoestring’ bible shoved into your backpack.

    But you’re right. Things do change, and that’s also fine. Currently my travels are restricted by my 9-5 job with its 24-day holiday allowance. Not that it stops me! I roll into work every Friday, wheelie-bag in tow, and spend most weekends exploring different parts of Europe.

    I think it is reassuring that travel can fit around your life as much as life can fit around your travel. Changes in priorities needn’t stifle the wanderlust.

  15. Pooja @lostinprettyeurope

    Wonderful blog post as always, Derek 🙂 And very inspiring. I love traveling but I haven’t thought about long-term travel as an option for me, although I think that’d be an amazing experience. I work full-time and travel on my annual leave, typically it’s two big trips plus 3-5 mini trips a year. Since in live in Central Europe, it works for me. 🙂

  16. Jenna

    Love this breakdown! It’s because of travel bloggers that I decided to push off and actually explore travel in depth. It wasn’t easy as I’m a single parent traveling with two little boys who were born with FASD (their birth mother was a heavy drinker) but we’ve made it happen. It helps that I had a moderately successful blog which I turned into a business. And here we are this summer roaming through France, Germany and we’ve spent 5 weeks in South Africa. We leave this week for the Netherlands! Love your blog! It’s one of the few I still subscribe to! Someday we hope to do one of your tours 🙂

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      Derek

      Hey Jenna – Great story and I appreciate you sharing! It’s good proof that travel can happen pretty much in any situation. Enjoy the Netherlands and thank you for reading the blog 🙂

  17. Brenda

    Sometimes I miss my early days of travel when you just showed up in a city (normally after an over night bus or flight) and wandered around until you found a suitable hostel or guesthouse but then again I love the pre research now whilst stuck in my 9-5 as it gets me dreaming and excited about the next trip. As you said, times change and there’s positives to take from every form of travel.

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  18. Allison

    Always enjoy your posts and the chance to indulge in my favorite daydream of travelling the world full time. I can’t wait to see what the upcoming trips are and hope to be able to join you on another soon! And maybe have my picture pop up in another post in the future! 😉

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      Derek

      Hey Allison – Ha 🙂 Looking forward to having you join another trip! And it’s great that you’ve been able to take some trips. So it’s part daydream and part reality!

  19. Lauren

    Inspiring for sure. My Aunt worked on ships for years as a singer. She was able to travel the world several times. She made me promise, as she was nearing the end of a terminal disease, that I would travel as much as I could, and I do. Yours is a life I sure wish I could have. Being a Mom kinda makes it not possible……I can live vicariously through you though.

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      Derek

      Hey Lauren – That’s all good though…being a mom and parent also has amazing benefits that I’m not able to experience with this lifestyle!

  20. Nur

    Another enjoyable post. Because of bloggers like you, we took the leap and traveled the world for almost a full year – in our 50’s. If I had only known a travel life was possible when I was younger… thanks for your inspiration.

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  21. Alana from Texas

    Future Japan expat right here! I often think of the quote “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s true. When we’ve gone all-in so there’s no way out, we’ll find a way to somehow make it work. Good luck to you and yours in your future endeavors.

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      Derek

      Hey Alana – I definitely agree with that! And congratulations on your plans for Japan…good luck to you in your future endeavors as well!

  22. Stefanie

    Thanks so much for sharing these insights into how you’ve done it!

    I’m not a full-time traveler, but I work in the travel industry, which allows me to do a good chunk of serious travel each year. I’m just finishing up six weeks of travels through Europe this week.

    My previous work on cruise ships, as well as having studied abroad in Germany, are what paved the way for my current job as a Travel Advisor & Tour Assistant for Rick Steves’ Europe.

    Now I’m hoping to follow in your footsteps by building my own online presence! Actually, your success story was a big motivation for me to finally get my own blog up and running last year!

    So thanks again and keep up the good travel work!

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      Derek

      Hey Stefanie – Not a bad story you have there yourself! I have no doubt you’ll continue achieving your goals…just keep enjoying the travels you do right now as well!

  23. Eric C.

    Thank you for sharing your story and wonderful journey. It’s hopeful for those of us who love travel and wish we could do it more often. My wife and I have make travel possible by not overspending and putting aside money when we can to ensure a real vacation getaway at least once a year.

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      Derek

      Hey Eric C. – I’m glad you wrote that comment. A lot of times, that’s really the focus that is needed. Some changes in spending at home can really free up some money that can be used for travel. I’m sure there’s something we could all cut out from our weekly or monthly spending happens that, when added up at the end of the year, is enough to for a real vacation. Great to hear you and your wife have managed to make it happen!

  24. George Bezushko

    I am always grateful to you, and for when any word from you arrives in my inbox. Your simply sincere blogs are like a compass in my life, always reminding me that there is another path in life. And I am happy for you!

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      Derek

      Hey George – Thank you for those words George. As long as you know there is another path, you’ll be prepared when the opportunity comes to take it!

  25. Grace Quioan

    I think this is your best blog yet. I like how you broke it down for the reader how your travel years evolved. One day soon, I may join another one of your tours.

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  26. Lewi Blake

    Really cool article Derek. I love the fact you’ve found plenty of different ways to support your travel throughout the years.
    Could you send me some info on the consulting work you do for other bloggers, I would love the opportunity to work with you!

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  27. Thomas Hillard

    Wonderful story, so inspiring, and a beautiful example of what kinds of futures lie in developing a career organically from the ground up, all the while chasing the dreams we all have.

    The mention of your Cruise Ship work, plus the banner at the bottom reminded me of a book I’m reading right now “Overbooked” by Elizabeth Becker (2013). She describes the development of the tourism industry from nothing to the world leading GDP that is it today, along with the downfalls it has brought. A whole chapter is dedicated to Cruise Ships, how they destroy ecosystems, take every step to avoid that their passengers spend money on the local economies when they port, how they are 5% of total greenhouse gas pollution, avoid nearly every employment, tax, and environment protection law by flying “flags of convenience”, and (maybe it wasn’t the same for you or changed since) pay their workings as little as $50/month and pass the cost of supporting the ship staff onto the passengers through suggested gratuity.

    There are few experts with your experience in travel in tourism who could speak to all the topics in this book, but most interesting to me is your feeling about cruise ships? Can they exist without destroying the planet and local nature habitats and economies of the cities they port in?

    I myself have always been weary of taking a cruise ship, but did plenty of times want to experiment with the employment opportunities. Now with the pollution and other issues I’ve learned about, I think I will pass. The world needs less pollution, and less big businesses using any loop hole possible regardless of the costs to our future generations.

    Sorry to drop this bomb, I love what you’ve done with your life, I really enjoying your newsletter and blog, and am always inspired and happy to recommend wanderingearl.com to others. Don’t stop.

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      Derek

      Hey Thomas – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Honestly, cruise ships are no different than hotels or airlines or tour operators that have hundreds of huge bus tours running at the same time. It’s really no different than any big business that’s out there that is causing some damage to the planet. In fact, there is really very little that isn’t causing some damage to the planet in some way, from the food we eat (which destroys way more of the planet than cruise ships by far with agricultural and livestock practices…and this would be easy to change by changing our diets), to how we get around (with the increase in vehicles on the roads which also contribute to more greenhouse gases than cruise ships), to any form of travel for that matter, to electricity production and so on. So singling out the cruise industry doesn’t make sense to me.

      As for the pay, the rules are quite strict these days with that and while there are certain positions that can earn $100 per month from the cruise lines, those are all heavily tipped positions so the take home pay is closer to $1000 or more, which is quite normal for some positions on cruise ships. It’s similar to the US system of restaurants being able to pay waitstaff a lower minimum wage due to the tips they receive. Actually, if you look at restaurants than can pay waitstaff $2.00 per hour, at 40 hours per week, that’s $320 USD per month. Now consider that cruise lines provide room, full board, subsidized entertainment, health insurance and an ability to travel and $100 per month makes more sense. It’s actually the exact same system.

      And in terms of the local economies and cruise lines trying to ensure that passengers don’t spend money in port, I’m pretty sure if you went to a port city and asked if they would prefer the ships not to come, every single business owner would want to keep the ships around.

      Back to the pollution, I guess my thoughts are that to be so critical of cruise lines, we would need to be quite critical of many other companies and make some pretty big decisions in our lives to ensure we stick to the same principles. Also, cruise lines, like most industries, are not given a free rein for pollution. As society becomes more aware and focused on the need to reduce pollution, industries such as this one have no choice but to change and improve as much as possible. And cruise lines are indeed always working to improve their pollution standards as a result.

  28. Jamie

    Love this blog! Keep it up. Leaving next year for china with my wife. We can’t wait!

    Where can I find all of your ebooks? Also are there any more videos/vlogs coming soon?

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      Derek

      Hey Jamie – That’s wonderful to hear! Before you know it you’ll be there! Here are the links to my eBooks:

      http://www.wanderingearl.com/travel-resources/work-on-cruise-ships/
      http://www.wanderingearl.com/travel-resources/how-to-live-a-life-of-travel-guide/

      And yes, more videos coming up. I didn’t realize how much time it would take and the last few months were super busy with bouncing around. But now that things have slowed down a bit, more videos on the way.

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