How I Stay Organized While Traveling & Working

How I Stay Organized While Traveling, Working & Being A Fool

Derek Personal Stuff, Work & Travel 72 Comments

How I Stay Organized While Traveling & Working

I have two brains.

There is my work brain and my travel brain. And the truth is that these two brains are not the best of friends. As much as I have tried over the years, I can’t seem to force these two brains to get along too well.

The way it works is that, at any given time, I can either be 100% focused on enjoying my travels or I can be 100% focused on my work. As a result, I can’t travel and work at the same time.

Of course, I can travel and work in a general sense but what I’m trying to say is that if I were to go outside today, wander around Bucharest or Delhi or Mexico City or Tashkent or wherever I happen to be, my brain would be in its travel mode. So, if I were to sit down at a cafe later in the afternoon and take a one hour break from my wandering, it’s not as if I could just pull out my laptop and get some productive work done.

My brain would still be in travel mode. It takes time to switch to work mode, a great deal of time in fact, because when the excitement of travel occupies my brain, I can’t just ignore that excitement in an instant and concentrate on work instead. When I’m focused on travel, my brain wants more travel! It doesn’t want to give way to my work brain at all.

And when I spend a good chunk of my day, or even an entire day, working hard on my projects, it is also difficult to suddenly stop thinking about the emails, about the blog, about the websites, about everything and anything related to work and just allow my travel brain to take over. I need time, maybe a few hours, maybe a day, to wind down so that I can make that switch.

This is why, when I travel, I travel hard and when I work, I work hard. I’ve been in Romania for the past two months working very hard on a new project that I’ll be launching in a couple of weeks all so that I can travel to India in March and to some other destinations in April with my travel brain in complete control, not having to worry too much about work.

The point? Yes, it is possible to ‘work and travel’ but if you really want to enjoy your travels to the fullest and you really want to be productive with your work, you need to learn how to separate the two.

I personally feel that it all comes down to organization, or, better yet, finding your own organizational comfort zone so that you can get the most out of each brain. And to give you an idea of how I stay organized with both travel and work (and why I often act like a fool) here’s a breakdown of my two brains…

Travel Brain

My travel brain is quite organized. I generally don’t need many tools or apps or websites to help me stay organized while traveling or when it comes to keeping track of flights, accommodation, destination research, etc. For me, simplicity is best and I often find that concentrating too much on systems designed to help us stay organized, only complicates things in the end. For my travel brain, all I need is a system of email folders and folders on my laptop. Everything has it’s place (flight bookings go into the “Upcoming Flights” folder, completed flights go into the “Past flights” folder and so on), it’s all very clear and simple and I have no trouble staying fully organized with this simple system.

It also probably helps that when I travel, I don’t necessarily have any travel-related deadlines or anything that requires immediate attention, something that my work brain must constantly deal with. My travels are almost always flexible and open to change and I am free to travel how I wish, when I wish and to wherever I wish. As a result, there’s not too much I really need to keep organized while traveling, which is why my travel brain is always relaxed and in a healthy state.

But then, there’s my…

Work Brain

I need to work. Most people do. And one of the major challenges of working while traveling is trying to avoid being stuck in front of the computer all the time. There is always more work to be done it seems!

Once again, for me, it all comes down to organization. My work brain is a bit more of a mess than my travel brain and definitely not as relaxed. My work brain runs at speeds I never thought possible at times and it must constantly adapt to a hundred different tasks, all while trying to complete these tasks from ever-changing surroundings. Let’s just say, it ain’t easy.

When it comes to staying organized with work, I still feel that most organizational systems lead to more hassle than benefit, which is why I prefer my own system for the most part. I know what needs to be done, I do it and that’s it. I don’t like to spend too much time prioritizing tasks, filing things away for later or trying to maximize every minute of my working day. I just prefer to sit down and get my stuff done.

To better illustrate how I take care of my work, the following is what a typical work day involves for me, the kind of day when my travel brain is ignored in order to fully concentrate on the blog and my other projects…

A Typical Day Online

Emails: 3-4 hours to answer an average of 100 – 150 blog-related emails per day

  • The 10 email addresses I have for my various projects all lead to one Gmail account, making it very easy to access and reply to all emails from one location.

Facebook: 1 hour answering messages, replying to comments and putting up a new post

  • Between the normal Facebook website and the FB app on my new phone, I’m able to reply to messages and comments and put up new posts with relative ease, from almost anywhere.

Twitter: 3-5 minutes to reply to questions, promote others’ posts/tweets and say hello to a few people

  • With Tweetdeck, both the desktop version and the phone app, doing everything I need to do on Twitter is quite easy

Blog post: 4-5 hours to write a draft, edit, complete the post, find photos and prepare it all for the blog

  • My posts are written in Open Office, saved as a raw text file and copied and pasted into my blog. I then upload any photos for the post to my SmugMug account, place the SmugMug links into the post, add some other code so that the post looks exactly how I want and everything is set to go.

Blog comments: 30–60 minutes to reply to any new comments left on any of my posts

  • Normally, I check the WordPress app on my phone whenever I have a minute or two so that I can just approve any comments that are being held in moderation as quickly as I can (comments from first time commenters are always held in moderation). Then, when I have more time, I just log into my blog and respond properly to all the most recent comments.

Wandering Earl Tours: up to 4 hours depending on when the next tour will take place

  • Organizing these tours involves research, communicating with my contacts in each country, creating PDF documents with information about the trip for all participants and communicating in general with those who have signed up for the tours. I simply use a series of spreadsheets to keep everything organized and this has worked perfectly.

Other projects: 1-8 hours per day depending on what needs to be done

  • At the moment, I’m working on three other projects, the new website I will launch in two weeks, a new destination website and blog consulting. Sometimes they don’t require much work at all and other times they require a great deal of attention.
  • To keep track of these other projects, I do use Trello, an online organizational platform that is simple and very easy to use, which is why I like it. It’s actually extremely basic and all it really does is help me see everything I need to do on one screen.

In between all of the above, I also tend to eat on occasion, brush my teeth, take several breaks that usually involve going for a walk outside, I reply to my personal emails, have Skype conversations (both personal and business related), answer interview questions, participate in podcasts and read, and sleep.

And usually, I accomplish everything I need to get done, right on time.

But as you see, there’s not much to how I stay organized. Perhaps it has more to do with discipline and knowing that if I don’t sit down and get to work, I won’t earn any money in the end and my travels won’t be able to continue. That thought alone is enough to ensure that I do switch to my work brain whenever I need to, no matter how much I want to be in travel mode.

Being a Fool
Of course, after a solid few hours or full day of work is over, and before I can switch back to my travel brain, I do need to go through a stage where I act like a complete, silly fool.

Some of my friends, and others I meet during my travels, have a tendency to stare at me in confusion when I enter my ‘fool’ state, which I think is the no man’s land between my travel and work brains. Acting like a fool – juggling my socks while singing reggaeton songs, clapping my hands and bowing to chairs and tables, sitting on the floor and pretending to paddle a canoe, for example – seems to help me make a successful transition between those two brains. It allows me to ease out of one brain in a safe manner without immediately having to embrace the other. It’s a decompression zone of sorts, a way to empty my brain fully before changing gears. And for some reason, acting like a fool is the method I settled on and that’s the method that seems to work best for me. Go figure.

So, with that said, it’s time to hit the “publish” button on this post, reply to a couple of more emails, close my laptop, take off my socks and sing me some reggaeton.

Do you have two brains – work/travel, work/life, etc.? How do you handle the two and stay organized? Do you use certain systems? Any other fools out there?


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Comments 72

  1. I’m fairly new to this traveling and working life so this post is super helpful. I like the idea of keeping travel plans simple. No need for tons of apps. I’m a pencil and paper gal when it comes to travel plans. I have it in my Google calendar too, but there’s something about a piece of paper in my pocket that resonates me. Sounds silly, but I didn’t even think about having “upcoming flights” and “past flights” folders on my email. #facepalm Thanks for the advice, Earl. Cheers and happy imaginary canoeing 🙂

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  4. Hi Earl, you mentioned, “The 10 email addresses I have for my various projects all lead to one Gmail account, making it very easy to access and reply to all emails from one location.”

    That one main Gmail account, do you also receive email direct to that Gmail (plus the other 10 leading to it), or is it a private Gmail email address that you’ve never shared ever and just use as your email gatherer?

  5. I actually do not share the two brainedness thing. Maybe it’s because I’m younger and new to traveling/being an adult as a whole or simply have a different mindset or mental automatic organization style, but my brain tends to take everything, process it, and then determine how to react. I don’t have to get into a mindset to work or have fun or go to school. Maybe it’s because to me, traveling, education, and working are all under the same umbrella with the same goal: To learn. My only problem is accidentally getting my words mixed up when talking to people because I think in a mixture of English, Spanish, and German.

  6. WOW. That is a lot of work! I’ve only started a blog (6 months, yay!) and I can’t keep track of everything that has to be done…but thank you for the inspiration – it can all be done if we really want it 🙂
    My work brain is ON now 🙂

  7. Hi Earl,
    Thanks for this post, it is perfect timing for me, as I am travelling Asia in a couple of weeks and have been worrying about how I can both enjoy travelling and also keep my blog updated, as I didn’t have a blog on my previous travels. I have two brains too, and I’ve been telling myself that I will be able to do it, but really I would prefer to be able to totally enjoy the experience and not worry about posting or social media.

    It is such a great incentive to work hard if it leaves you free to travel though, and I think you have the right idea of doing stints of work so you can be free to let your travel brain take over!

    That is a lot of emails to be answering, well done for taking the time to get back to everyone!

    1. Hey Christine – My advice is to not combine the two. Travel for a couple of weeks, then stop in one place for a couple of weeks. Otherwise, it is quite challenging to maintain and grow a blog while moving around at the same time. You’ll figure out what’s best for you though!

  8. I loved this post. Everything you said was so spot on. Last year I attempted to work and travel and it is so hard to do both without have some kind of system or mindset switch. Awesome post!

  9. How do you keep track of money when travelling? I’ll only be travelling for about a month and I’ll need to stick to a budget everyday, which I expect is different for you as you make money as you go? Any tips for keeping track of my spending?

    1. Hey Owen – I don’t really keep track to much. I know what I have, how much I want to spend and then I just estimate here and there. But you could use a simple spreadsheet or even an iPhone/Android app to keep track of your travel expenses these days…there are plenty of options!

  10. I feel the same way with having two brains, so I could definitely relate to your post. I’m going to look into Trello because you mentioned it as I think it could help me organize a little better. Thank you, Earl.

  11. Well your question was a bit tricky while yes we have two brains, everyone has. One side is for work and the other one for being a fool. So i mostly use the side of the fool and my life goes crazy since i registered it. But never mind, work when you have sparetime, write an article every week or two and thats it.

  12. I’m so glad you brought this up! I find it really, really challenging to travel and work at the same time. The hardest thing for me is working when you’ve just arrived in a new city and are itching to explore it. Sometimes while traveling I hunker down in sleepy towns just so I’m less distracted and can get more done. Then, when I’m somewhere with more to see and do, I can take a day or two to just be a traveler. It sounds like you’ve got it figured out – I’d love to be able to take an entire month or two without having to focus on work.

  13. I’ve been suffering recently trying to get everything to work together and had an awful week last week. Of course that means I have hit this week with a renewed promise to try and find some balance…. I have too many brains fighting in some kind of Battle Royal though right now, I need to convince them to change the battle into some kind of camp fire sing-a-long instead.

    I have my “walk aimlessly around Budapest” brain, my “work on client work” brain, “work on blogs brain”, “learn hungarian” brain, “cook complicated vegan meal” brain and “learn new technical stuff” brain…. to name a few! Balance needs to be found so wish me luck!!!

    1. Hey Forest – That certainly happens to many of us from time to time…our brain splits into too many pieces. But slowly, you can think about everything you are doing, stick with what you love or what you need and get rid of things that might be wasting time or not actually giving you as much benefit as you had hoped for. This can help simplify things!

  14. Earl, this is so interesting and important. Even though it seems like two (or more) brains, of course it’s only one, with different areas of neurons firing at different times. I notice it often, and try to not force myself if my mindset is not conducive to whatever I was trying to do.

    And yes, it might be better professionally if you can find a way to switch mindsets by deep breathing, plugging in a negative ion generator (I just bought one to try), or whatever, and not doing anything people who don’t know you well might wonder about.

    Meditation helped me inhabit the part of my mind that watches life happen while the thoughts fly by un-engaged-with. You seem like a sensitive person, from the “two minds” post and the “inspired by high places and being near the ocean” posts. I think with some study or insight you can find more ways to transition between mindsets when necessary. Good wishes!

  15. Oh, this is a whole nother major theme … “Odd-acting traveler still treated kindly all over the world.” For myself, I’m not sure I would feel relaxed on my way to unknown lands if my tour leader paused to juggle his socks. Just saying.

  16. Awesome reading! We can only and only agree. After 2 weeks in Laos, where we traveled more than worked (also because of incredibly slow connection), now, being in Thailand, it has been nearly a month that we are deliberately ignoring our travel brain and we are basically glued to our chairs and laptops with the work on our blog 😀
    We also found out that if we bring some take-away food back to the guesthouse and eat there or we cook one meal per day at the place we are staying, we save sooo much time. We also use a common shared document in Excel where we keep track of all tasks, marking them with “high”, “medium” or “low” priority. It’s really helpful, so we start with the most urgent things each day.

    Looking forward to seeing your upcoming projects!

  17. Geeze! If you add up all those work hours it’s like 26 a day! I’m the same way, either the hustle switch is engaged, or I’m sipping coronas on the beach, unplugggggged.

  18. Great insight about working on the road.
    I found what works best for me is to wake up early and get some work done before i even start thinking about where I am, what is around me and what I am going to do that day. Once I’ve done some work, then its all travel baby.

    Me eating breakfast is my fool’s gap, I’m so excited the work is done I just make a huge mess haha.

    Great post!

    Jamie

  19. What a enjoyable read. Your writing really improves with every post 🙂
    My brain works in quite similar ways, but with a constant white noise of a little crazy.
    Luckily I never considered writing as work, so thats still working while in travel modus.
    But everything else, like working on websites, my business etc, just goes so badly in travel mode I simply stoped trying a while ago…
    Everytime I tried to work I suddenly found myself sitting at the beach or drinking coconut vodka with locals whilst wearing a coconut helmet and singing along to marilyn manson…
    Keep up the good work

  20. Ah! Travel brain! Haha, it’s a pain to get rid of it and to get into work brain mode. Sometimes I need to just skip work and go the beach (or whatever activity it is..) so I can come back, make myself feel guilty and then work my butt off. 🙂

  21. Wow, I feel like this post was written just for me haha 🙂 This is my biggest problem in my life at the moment since I am travelling for more than 6 months and in different cities/countries every week it’s so damn hard to balance blogging and having fun. I think I need to do as you say, take some time off travelling and work like crazy for a week or at least a few days.

    Btw, just out of curiosity… How many hours total do you usually work in an AVERAGE work brain day?

    1. Hey Dan – If it’s a day I’m dedicating to work, I’ll normally work 8-10 hours. And these days, I prefer to do that for 1-2 months at a time so that I can get a lot done and then have time to enjoy some travels.

  22. I found this very interesting as I am travelling myself just now in the Philippines, about to move on to Malaysia, and find it almost impossible to switch from travel to work mode, which in my case would be writing fiction. Reading is no problem but creativity is elusive because so much of my brain is engaged in soaking up new impressions and dealing with challenges. The best I can do is take notes and hope they will be useful later.

    I will try your foolishness recipe to see if it helps.

    1. Hey Mary – It’s definitely not easy to separate the two and I will say that it does take time to figure out how you can make the most of each brain!

  23. I like the way you work Earl and yes, I guess that I have different parts of myself all working in sync. I have the professional no-nonsense teaching self, I have the blogging self, the party-girl self, the mummy self, the sexy wife self, the funny self and the go-mad-eccentric-look-at-you-you’re-weird self. It’s all good I reckon and it’s still all me. Sort of LOL!

  24. So you really do keep work and travel separate. For me I find I can switch into work productive mode straight away. However to get fully lost from the thought of work (online) I need at least an hour to forget about it and appreciate where I am at, whats happening around me and all that jazz. But i find I can transfer pretty easy, by the way my fold phase is 24/7.

  25. Great post. Just curious, what kind of environment do you usually work from? That’s an incredible amount of focus to be that productive – likely from very beautiful environs. I highly suggest Enya lightly playing in the background, a cat on your lap and garlic roasting in the oven for the optimal work-from-home experience. The cat can be a problem if your Skyping though…

    1. Hey John – The cat can also be a problem if you’re allergic, which I am! Normally, I try not to work from ‘home’ or from any place where I am also sleeping. I’m definitely more productive when I ‘get out of the house’ and find a completely different environment, which for me is typically a comfortable cafe where I can just sit, put on some music and get to work.

  26. Yes yes yes. I havr felt which is when I decided we will be travelers first and travel bloggers next. When travelling I can’be regular on the blog and if I am means we simply need to move to another place.

  27. I wish I could separate the two better. I find myself trying to videotape everything, while still trying to see everything around me. The result is, video that’s sometimes not very well-framed. 🙁

  28. Interesting to see a breakdown of your typical workday!

    If I think about like that, I guess there’s a work-me, a blog-me, a dance-me and a everything else-me.
    But to be honest, mostly there’s just chaos:D

    I am very curious about all of your other projects, though…
    Small tip?:)

    1. Hey Jennifer – I’m not sure it would work if I took a video of the paddling…then it become ‘work’ if I put it on the blog and that will just make a huge mess in my head 🙂

  29. The two brain theory fits me perfect. It usually depends on how I start my morning. If I am productive soon after waking up and get some stuff done, then I can never really switch off of work mode. Whenever I try to relax or stop working, I open up my laptop again because really all I am thinking about is what other things I can do.

    Then on other days if I wake up and just don’t feel like doing anything ‘productive’ then that is how my entire day goes. At the most I spend a little bit of time doing what needs to get done for that day.

    There must be a grudge held between the two brains that they decide to take separate days off so they don’t need to see one another. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong it really just is what it is. Some days I work hard other days I play!

    1. Hey George – That makes sense to me and as long as you manage to get some productive days of work in there, such a pattern certainly works.

  30. Earl, you’ve reinforced my idea that most things come in threes. In your case, it’s work, travel and foolishness. In my case, now that I’m retired, I will not be occupying any amount of my time to the work part of life anymore. (Hit the applause button)

    So, the conundrum is solved. With travel and foolishness occupying most of my time, you just helped me in determining the third part of my life. As most of my travel will be serendipitous; repeatedly reopening Pandora’s box, and acting foolish; living outside the box, that leaves probably what I do for most of my time. I like to think, contemplate, or just plain ponder. You can do it anywhere, but you can do it with more imagination when you’re traveling. The only prerequisite for this part of life is that you hafta be a good listener. (or not, but then you’re encroaching back into the fool’s realm)

    1. Hey Steve – That seems like an ideal trio to me and in fact, that thinking/contemplating is probably something that we should all try to find some time for each day! It will great that you’ll be able to make that an official 1/3 of your life!

  31. Earl,
    You are so organized with room for chaos ….thumbs up!!
    I think this is a great example of the (generalized) differences between male/female brains and how they function. Don’t anyone jump down my throat….I’m generalizing. But over the years I have noticed a difference. Most men I know focus on a certain aspect of their lives….then go to the next project/person/situation that needs his attention. Most women have several things in a swirl at once….often leaving men wondering what the hell are we thinking/saying.
    You fine sir…..have managed a great solution!!!
    Bravo….and happy that you can shake off work and head into fun/travel mode!!
    We get to enjoy BOTH of your worlds!!
    Grazie!!

  32. Ah HA, I think I finally realize what I’ve been doing wrong all this time. I don’t tend to separate my work brain from my travel brain. Well…I usually just spend an asinine amount of travel time worrying about all of the work I’m not getting done. I totally dig the mindset you’ve got going on, though. I’ll still have to do some work when I travel, but I think I need to shift my mindset a bit. And act a fool more often.

  33. There is definitely a fine balance and it can be tough to transition from one state to the next. Sounds like you have created a system to help you project manage and keep things organized!

    1. Hey Stephen – They’re dirty socks but then I roll them up so that they are slightly less disturbing during the juggling process.

  34. Wow, I’m impressed. I’ve always admired people who have certain plan for the day or schedule how they’re going spent their day. That’s what successful people do, and good time planning is one reason why they are successful So, keep up the good work!

  35. I’m really interested in that “Being a fool” phase! Where/from whom did you learn that? When did you recognize you did it? Have you heard of others doing? It makes me wonder if the benefits of it are the same as something like the benefits of improv comedy. I don’t know what they would be off hand, but it’s something I really want to do when I move to a larger city.

    1. Hey Mitch – To be honest, I have no idea. I think I’ve always had that ‘fool’ side to me where I would act oddly every now and then but perhaps when I started having more and more work to do, that part just filled in the gap and as soon as I noticed that it helped me switch brains, I was more than happy to embrace it! I could see how improv comedy could be similar and if you’re eve in an improv show, let me know, I’ll be there!

  36. Hahaha I know that ‘fool’-phase. I usually throw my tongue out of my mouth and start grunting. But that’s just me. I might dance a bit too. I separate work and travel by usually working in the evenings when I travel, but I’m not constantly travelling like you, so I have my periods at home which I spend working. I’m actually able to switch between them easily, but it also means that my brain tends to stick in work mode, while I should be enjoying myself, regularly..

  37. So in conclusion you would say that the ultimate transition between these to brains won’t happen unless you hang around in no man’s land and clap your hands while bowing down to tables and chairs for a while? haha, you just made my day. I too have a fool’s garden that separates the two, never had much use for it, but now it all makes sense!

    On a more serious note, I’ve always wondered how you find balance between work and travel. As someone who (quite clearly) looks up to you I’ve tried to figure it out how you do it by stalking your posts, social media etc, but somehow my calculations ended up saying you have 73 hours a day. Needless to say, I am relieved to know that all it takes is damn hard work, passion and being a fool.

    Cheers my friend, and good luck with launching the new site!

    Ruann

    1. Hey Ruann – For the most part, yes. Or at least by entering that no man’s land, it helps the transition take place much more quickly than if I tried to force it!

      Ha…I’m glad there isn’t 73 hours in a day because that would probably lead to even more time on my laptop when the goal this year is to reduce the time I spend in front of it 🙂

  38. I have always enjoyed reading your posts. I especially enjoyed this one. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of it, but I attend a traveling American university called LIU Global. Every year we travel to a different country to study as a part of a bachelor’s program. Occasionally we take field trips to surrounding countries/provinces/etc. during the year and I always have such a difficult time after these trips adjusting back to the work flow. My university focuses on experiential learning, however being an accredited college there are essays to write and work to be done. I feel like you would be a great guest lecturer for my university.

    1. Hey Mariah – That’s a great concept and I have no doubt you’re going to have some incredible benefits from that type of course. And I’d love to lecture for such a group of people. I’ll have a look at the website now as I hadn’t heard of it before.

  39. I shared your two-brainedness when I travel, so this post really hits home for me. It’s a constant frustration – especially when I’m doing work that is travel-related. For me, a good travel experience is flinging open all your senses and just thinking and feeling as much as you can in the moment. But if it’s also work, it has to be recorded – and that process usually snaps the moment like a dry twig, and my brain switches over to fretting about deadlines and e-mails and wondering if I’m going to get paid by x in time to be able to book y…

    Love how simple your system is. And yep, I use Trello as well. Absolute lifesaver in terms of knowing what I should be doing at any given moment.

    I applaud your Foolishness. More people should do that. You have inspired me to new heights of professional stupidity. (Note from Mike’s lawyer: “Hi. if anything Bad happens, this post will be used in a court of law. Thank you.”)

    What I *really* struggle with is reading. I’m with Stephen King when he says that writers should be reading as much as they’re writing – but I don’t know how to fit it into the average day. How and where do you squeeze it in, Earl?

    1. Hey Mike – I know exactly what you’re talking about when work/travel mix and I have a feeling that’s the reason why I’ve started taking so few photos when I travel now. It’s as if my travel brain really wants me to just see with my own eyes the places I’m visiting and to not think of work in any way whatsoever. And truthfully, I enjoy traveling this way. The problem lies when I do sit down to write and I don’t have any photographs of course.

      For reading, I dedicate time on the weekends to reading for a couple of hours and do tend to carry my Kindle everywhere I go. So if I suddenly find myself waiting for a friend for 30 minutes or waiting for a train, I’ll just start reading. Also, I have a ‘no work’ policy while on flights and train journies, so the time I spend on those is all about reading for me as well.

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