Budget Travel is a Relative Term for Families

Recently the New York Times published a spring break article highlighting spring break destinations recommended by three different travel agencies. One tackles Budget travel (about $4500), but the other two took on moderate ($9000+) and splurge (sky’s the limit) budgets on a trip. I was horrified, along with several other traveling families, to find what one agent thought $4500 could buy a family of four. Disney was in the mix of course. Banff National Park was the 2nd option he gave along with a cruise. Airfare was not included in any trip. What kind of accommodations, fine dining, and activities were these people doing? Nothing worth $4500 or that you couldn’t do cheaper I’ll tell you that much.

In an effort to dispel this idea that $4500 was the minimum you could spend on a week of “budget” travel, I asked other traveling families to chime in with their budgets for recent trips. Our hope is that you won’t limit yourselves to canned trips to theme parks, but you will look outside the box. Even if Disney is your dream, you will find that it is more than plausible on a smaller budget WITH airfare included.

What you get with the NY Times:

Number of Travelers: 2 adults plus 2 children (ages 6 and 12)
Length of stay: 1 week
Budget: $4115
What you get: 1 hotel room plus entry to the parks including 4 days at Disney, 3 days at Universal Studio and 1 day at Sea World
What you don’t get: Food, airfare, any splurge activities like golf, Disney World Speedway, etc.

Banff National Park
Number of Travelers: 2 adults plus 2 children (ages 6 and 12)
Length of stay: 1 week
Budget: $4239
What you get: Hotel and rental car plus 5 days of hiking and skiing in Canada
What you don’t get: The itinerary entices you with the Banff Gondola, tickets to a hockey game and a horse-drawn sleigh ride, but they aren’t included in the overall price. Food is also not included.

Cruise to the Bahamas (via NYC)
Number of Travelers: 2 adults plus 2 children (ages 6 and 12)
Length of stay: 1 week
Budget: $3649
What you get: one week cruise on the Norwegian Jewel that takes you to Orlando, the Bahamas, and Nassau. Food is included, but a cover charge may be added depending on where you want to eat on the boat.
What you don’t get: The agent recommends a Kennedy Space Center Up Close excursion, but that will cost you extra, along with any other on-shore excursions you want to do.

Now that the shock has set in, sit back and relax as we bring you on a journey through all sorts of budget adventures for families of all sizes that are fun, adventurous, and even a little luxurious.

The Q Family Adventure
Our national’s capital won’t cost you as much as you think.

U.S.A. Itineraries

Washington, D.C.

Who: Amy from The Q Family Adventures
Where: Washington, D.C.
Length of stay: 7 days, 6 nights
Number of Travelers: 2 adults and 2 children (ages 5 and 7)
What you will get: Amy from Atlanta went to Washington DC with her husband and two kids (ages 5 and 7 at the time of travel) for spring break of 2010. She spent 7 days and 6 nights in Washington DC sightseeing museums, monuments and the national zoo. She also took a day trip to Baltimore to visit the Inner Harbor, children museum and the aquarium.

Budget Breakdown:

  • Hotel: $693.75 (Sheraton Hotel in Crystal City – includes parking fee) – Booked via bidding from Priceline.com
  • Transportation: $116.10 (Metro card, parking fee and gas)
  • Food: $436.10
  • Activities & Shopping: $120 (Mainly souvenir since no admission fee in most of museum we visited)
  • TOTAL: $1365.95
Culture Everyday
Jump on into family adventures in the Adirondacks (Photo Courtesy of Culture Every Day)

Camping and Kayaking in the Adirondacks

Who: Justine from Culture Every Day
Where: Brown’s Tract Pond, New York (near Raquette Lake)  – part of NY State Parks system
Length of stay: 5 nights
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 2 children (ages 7 and 9)
What you will get: Justine Ickes from Culture Every Day road-tripped to New York’s Adirondack State Park for a five-night camping trip with her husband and two sons, ages 9 and 7. Only a four and a half hour drive from their home base in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, the Adirondack region is perfect for the family’s annual end of summer (August) get-away. From their campsite at Brown’s Tract Pond state campground, the family could make day-long kayak excursions to Raquette Lake, hike the many family-friendly trails, or kick back with a book and fishing rods. In nearby Inlet, Justine and her brood gorged on ice cream and free outdoor concerts. For a taste of local culture and history they headed to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. A highlight of the trip? Snapping the annual family vacation shot with the gargantuan Paul Bunyan statue at the Enchanted Forest Water Park in Old Forge.

Budget Breakdown:

  • Gas: $70 (450 miles, 24 miles/gallon, $3.65/gallon – drove from Torrington, CT to campground)
  • Food: we did almost all of our cooking at the campground plus about 1-2 dinners out and ice cream in town.
  • Camp site fees = $18/night for standard camping ($18 x 5 nights = $90)
  • Rent kayak = 3 kayaks @ $40 / day = total $360
  • Water park entry at Water Safari- NY’s largest water park= $104 (TIP: enter the park after 3 pm and the next day you get free admission)
  • Adirondack Museum – 4 tickets for $48
  • TOTAL $ 672 + food + any camping gear you don’t already own
Arrows Sent Forth
Escape to the beaches of Florida (Photo Courtesy of Arrows Sent Forth)

Spring Break in Florida

Who: Nicole from Arrows Sent Forth
Where: Madeira Beach near St. Petersburg
Length of stay: 5 days
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 1 child + 1 baby (lap seat)
What they got: Nicole from Arrows Sent Forth managed to bring her husband and two kids to Florida last year during spring break for well under $2,000. And by no means did they stick to a restrictive budget. While it wasn’t a luxury trip, they did enjoy perks like a 2-bedroom condo, lots of meals out on the town, and even pricey excursions like a visit to the zoo. For a more detailed breakdown of their expenses and some tips for what to save on and when to splurge read her full write-up of What We Spend on Spring Break on her site.

Budget Breakdown:

  • Airfare+ Baggage: $578 (Indiana to Florida)
  • Ground Transportation: $306.50
  • Lodging: $406
  • Food: $424
  • Baby Gear Rental: $48
  • activities: $58
  • TOTAL: $1,820.50
Travels with Children
St. Louis can offer so much more than the Arch (Photo Courtesy of Travels with Children)

Christmas or Spring Break in St. Louis

Who: Linda from Travels with Children
Where: St. Louis
Length of stay: 7 days
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 4 children
What you will get: With such a large family, Linda looks for drivable destinations from their home in Minnesota.  A few years ago they opted to spend Christmas in St. Louis enjoying the museums, skating, and other fabulous sights in the area.  If they had gone for spring break this year their trip would have looked something like this:

  • Day 1:  Drive to Coralville, IA.  Check out Coralville Mall; visit the Iowa Children’s Museum (free reciprocal admission through our museum membership or $42 for our family of six); or try skating at the Coral Ridge Ice Arena ($48)
  • Night 1:  Comfort Suites, Coralville, IA: Suite with free breakfast ($80 with a discount from our insurance company, $90 AAA rate, $100 standard rate)
  • Day 2:  Drive to Hannibal, MO.  Visit Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum Properties ($66)
  • Nights 2-6:  Embassy Suites St. Louis – Airport with free breakfast ($116 AAA rate; $129 standard rate)
  • Day 3:  CityMuseum in St. Louis ($72); The Magic House Children’s Museum (free with our reciprocal membership or $57 for a family of six)
  • Day 4:  Gateway Arch, tram/movie/museum ($64); Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour (free)
  • Day 5:   St. Louis Zoo (free); St. Louis Science Center (free)
  • Day 6:  Missouri History Museum (free); Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site (free)
  • Day 7:  Drive home

Budget Breakdown:

  • Lodging (including 12% tax): $739.20
  • Food (quick lunch, sit-down dinner): $700.00
  • Admission to attractions: $250.00
  • Gas (1200 miles): $200.00
  • Other: $200.00
  • TOTAL: $2089.20  
Everything Everywhere Amy
The Grand Canyon and other natural wonders await your family as you explore the U.S.A (Photo Courtesy of Everything Everywhere Amy)

Spring Training and More in Arizona

Who: Amy from Everything-Everywhere.com
Where: Phoenix, Arizona
Length of stay: 6 nights
Number of Travelers: 2 adults and 2 children
What you will get: Amy and her family visited two National Parks (the Grand Canyon and Saguaro), multiple other National Park Sites (Wupatki, Sunset Crater, Montezuma’s Castle) and spent time in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona.  Most of their entertainment was outdoors and relatively free.  The entire family enjoyed hiking and exploring, but the kids loved going to see their favorite baseball team play in a spring training game.  It was a great atmosphere and they all had a blast!

Budget Breakdown:

  • Airfare for 4 from DFW to PHX – $1200
  • Hotel for 6 nights – $600
  • Rental Car – $300
  • Gas – $150
  • Food – $400
  • National Park Pass – $80
  • Jeep Tour in Sedona – $230
  • Spring Training Tickets to see Texas Rangers play – $40
  • TOTAL: $3000

Domestic travel in the U.S.A. isn’t your only option. There is an entire world out there just waiting to be discovered. You may have to play with your dates to score the best airfare, but if the kids miss one extra day of school this year so you can head to Europe or a tropical beach, is it really that bad?

International Itineraries

Cozy up with farm animals in Ireland (Photo courtesy of Ireland With Kids)
Cozy up with farm animals in Ireland (Photo courtesy of Ireland With Kids)


Who: Jody from IrelandWithKids.com
Where: Ireland
Length of stay: Two Weeks
Number of Travelers: 2 adults plus 2 kids
Budget Breakdown:

  • Flights from Chicago to Dublin for 4: $2500
  • Lodging (10 nights):  $500  (included breakfast)
  • Meals:   Approximately $450
  • Activities- most were free:  estimated $250 for entry fees
  • Car rental  $400
  • Souvenirs  $300
  • TOTAL: $4,400

What you will get: In June 2012 Jody took her daughters, ages 7 and 5, and her 19-year-old cousin to Ireland for 11 days.  They flew into Dublin, picked up a rental car, and drove to County Offaly, where they spent 2 nights.  In Offaly they went hiking, visited Birr Castle, Lough Boora and the monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise. From Offaly Jody and her gals headed to Connemara where they stayed for 3 nights, using 2 B&Bs.  They visited Kylemore Abbey, drove the Sky Road, danced in pubs, drove to Cong and visited locations from The Quiet Man film. Then it was on to Limerick and a night spent with friends.  Before leaving Limerick they all toured King John’s Castle. Just south of Limerick, in the Ballyhoura Region, they settled in at The Old Bank B&B for 2 nights.  Here these ladies toured Lough Gur and all the amazing history in the area.  The Donkey Sanctuary was another popular stop, as they got to pet so many cute donkeys! Their final nights were spent outside Dublin. Many of the activities they chose were free, and they took full advantage of the plentiful Irish breakfasts each morning.  Evening meals were often in a pub, or they would grab bread, cheese and meats from a grocer and relax at their B&Bs.

Embrace the natural beauty of Scotland (Photo courtesy of Paul from A Luxury Travel Blog)

Island Hopping in Scotland

Who: Paul from A Luxury Travel Blog
Where: Scottish islands of Mull, Coll, Tiree & Staffa
Length of stay: 4 days
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 2 children
What you will get: Although Paul Johnson is Editor at A Luxury Travel Blog and travels to many luxurious hotels and resorts worldwide with his family, he likes to also keep his children’s feet firmly on the ground with one or two less ‘luxurious’ trips from time to time. In August last year, they went island hopping in Scotland, departing Oban on a rib boat and calling at the islands of Mull, Coll, Tiree & Staffa.

Budget Breakdown:

  • Fuel for car: £100 (family based near the Scottish border).
  • Camping: £50 for 1-night camping and leaving tent pitched for longer in case they were coming back and so that they had a base to readily return to.
  • Boat rental: estimated £200 per day (traveler had a family boat)
  • Fuel for the boat: est. £300
  • Wild camping on the islands: Free
  • Food: pub meals + snacks around £40 for the 4 plus mackerel they caught themselves and ate (Free!)
  • B&B in Tobermory: £50-£100 for the 4 in two rooms for one night.
  • Activities: Free (walking, fishing, visiting islands, etc.)
  • TOTAL: £1180 (about $1800 USD)

Cruisin’ to the Bahamas

Who: Erin from Explore with Erin
Where: The Bahamas
Length of stay: 4 nights
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 2 kids
What you got: Erin and her family took a Carnival cruise to The Bahamas for 4 nights this in the spring. They enjoyed loads of food, dove down the water slides, swam, relaxed in the hot tub, went through the aquarium at Atlantis, took in plenty of shows at the theatre, and watched movies. She declared, “it was heavenly.”

Budget Breakdown: 

  • All inclusive cruise: $869.32 plus $225.82 on board drinks and tips
  • Activities and entrance fees: $250 for a full day at Atlantis water park, aquarium, pools & beaches
  • Transport to and from the boat on Day One: $28, Day 2: $8, getting off the boat and heading to Orlando: $50.
  • TOTAL: $1431.14
Jenni in the Dominican Republic (Photo courtesy of Witness Humanity)

Parent’s Getaway in the Dominican Republic

Who: Jenni from Witness Humanity
Where: Dominican Republic
Length of stay: 6 nights
Number of Travelers: 2 adults
What they got: Jenni’s trip budget included accommodation, food, drinks, transportation and activities for the two (adults only on this particular trip!) They used travel vouchers they received on a previous trip for giving up their seats on a full flight, so their flights to the Dominican Republic cost them nothing. On this trip they stayed in an ocean view room for 3 nights, enjoyed peace and quiet at an eco-hostel for 2 nights, hired a boat to take them to a less populated beach for the day, enjoyed snorkeling, and really lived it up in the food area. They could have cut this budget even further by eating what locals eat for all of their meals instead of partaking in the delicious seafood at every chance they got, but when you don’t have the kids, sometimes you need to indulge yourself a little more than usual.

Budget Breakdown:

  • Accommodations for 6 nights: $192
  • Transportation, in country: $85
  • Food: $216
  • Fun: $115
  • Other (conditioner, sunscreen, snacks, pharmacy expenditures, etc): $43
  • TOTAL: $651 (airfare not included)
The Andes of Argentina

RTW: Trip of a Lifetime on a Budget

Who: Michelle from WanderMom
Where: Around the globe
Length of stay: 1 year
Number of Travelers: 2 adults + 2 children
What they got: Continuous travel for a year around the world.

  • Countries visited: Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Portugal, France, Netherlands, Iceland.
  • Top experiences: Inca trail, hiking in the Chilean desert at sunset, horse-riding in Ecuador, Argentina and Kyrgyzstan, cooking in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, ziplining in the jungle in Laos, scuba-diving in Vietnam and Thailand, staying in a yurt in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan, buying peaches in Samarkand, exploring Persepolis, discovering Sumarian tablets in Iraq, ski-doo-ing at the top of Europe’s highest glacier in Iceland.

Budget: average $150 per day for 4 people


25 thoughts on “Budget Travel is a Relative Term for Families”

  1. Wow–great post, so informative, thanks! We recently spent 2n/3d in Launceston, Tasmania (Australia) and spent nearly $1,000 for our family of 4. Sadly, Australia is very expensive, hence we tend to take longer trips to SEA instead!

  2. Great post! I am surprised that someone got 4 tickets from Chicago to Dublin in June for $2500, we just spent double that to take 4 people from Atlanta to the UK for spring break, I wish it had been less than that! We love Priceline for hotels but find it hard with young kids since we really want a suite type room. We always find that VRBO or something similar works for as much as (or less than) a hotel, and we get two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen.

    1. We got an amazing deal last year- but we booked nearly 5 months in advance, which helped! This year is a completely different story- prices to Dublin are outrageous!

  3. GREAT POST! Love the various trips. Last year we spent approximately $3500 on 6 vacations: CT, FL, ME, & NH (note the new england states we drove to all separately due to events we were attending) were the big trips; and then 2 here in Ohio. We stayed with family for 2 of the 4 big trips, drove from Ohio for all of them (over 5000 miles total and gas prices were not the best!), and avoided Disney while in Florida (plan to do that next year!). We minimized eating out where we could but this was a big bulk of our spending. All were wonderful vacations! This year one of our vacations is driving to Michigan for a week and we are splurging on a suite, but the total trip will still probably only cost us $1500 based on my estimate. Wowee!

  4. Talon

    We have traveled on $1000/month for 2 people for most of the 2 years we’ve been traveling full time. That article was insane! I’m so glad you tackled it head-on.

  5. Tiffany F

    How I love this article! It is so helpful to get some perspective on various trips (especially those trips for 4). And I love the itineraries – great ideas.

    We just calculated our February trip to the UK and Ireland (4 countries).
    – We are a family of 4, kids were 9 & 11.
    – We stayed 17 nights, with an average of 2 nights per location.
    – Lodging: 3- hotels, 3-apartments/cottages, one hostel and one boat (or only criteria was at least 2 double beds, no pull out sofas; but we preferred proper beds for our kids).
    – We ate at least one restaurant meal per day, with boys eating adult entrees, and the remaining meals were included in lodging, self-catering or take-away picnics.
    – Transportation included flights from Seattle -> London, Brit Rail, ferry: Wales -> Ireland, flight Ireland->London, various buses, and underground (no taxis, no rental car).
    – We barely spent any $ on souvenirs.
    – We did spend on activities such as The London Eye, Tower of London, Roman Baths, etc.
    – Total was about $9600 (yikes). I didn’t feel we were skimping, but we weren’t holding to a specific budget either, and we didn’t indulge too much but were comfortable. I’d say that budget represents 4-adults (vs. 2 adults/2 kids) since we paid for the children as adults in lodging and food.

    For another perspective: in 2012, we flew Seattle – Orlando for a 4-night Disney Cruise to Bahamas out of Port Canaveral. We stayed 2 extra nights outside of cruise, but did not incur lodging as we stayed with family, but did incur some food. That trip – a total of 6 nights – cost almost exactly what our 17-night UK trip did.

  6. Those types of articles make me want to scream. This is exactly why people who don’t travel don’t understand how my husband and I do the trips we do.

    I don’t think we’ve spent more than $4500-$5000 on a trip in the last 5 years. And let me be clear; all of those trips have *international*. All have been at minimum 8 days, and ALL have included airfare, lodgings, transportation and food for two people. ALL in. And we don’t stay in youth hostels and eat crappy food either. Destinations have included Japan, Turkey, Italy, Vietnam, etc.

    How do we do it? Careful planning, look for airfare deals, hotels with points or rent vacation apartments, etc. I should also add that we don’t have kids, but based on the NY Times article, their cost really isn’t factored in much when they don’t include airfare and food. Our airfare was usually at least $800 to $1200 per person which only leaves us $2500-$3000 for the rest.

    1. Keryn @ Walking On Travels

      Kristina- I know how GREAT you eat when you travel. Your food shots have me drooling all night long. You have taken envy worthy trips. I don’t think we have ever spent over $5000 on a trip either, and they included Japan, China, Europe, Hawaii, etc. and we do have kids! The only expense my kids add right now is airfare. I wish they ate more, but for now it’s just me that gets to splurge 😉

  7. Jenni

    So glad you decided to tackle this topic! I really think that if people know what is possible on a budget, many more people will get out there and travel!

  8. Tricia @ www.roadtriptheworld.com

    Great article! I am always amazed when I read travel articles that outline expensive trips as “budget.” If every trip we took cost 4500 we would hardly get anywhere! The most expensive trip we have ever taken was about 3,800 for our family of 6 to rent a RV for three weeks visiting 5 National Parks and included a whitewater rafting trip down the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument. I can not imagine spending 4,500 on a week at Disney! Love how you wrote up your article with real life trips!

  9. Kate

    We love traveling – road trips especially, and we keep costs to a minimum by camping intermittently throughout the trip. Nature is the name of our game and it is so reasonable to see the countryside this way. You also see so much more. The cottage stay is then a special treat. We love to cook and this also keeps costs reasonable, with healthier foods being consumed and us feeling so much better. A hike each day or some sort of exercise is a must to good sleeping. We enjoy every day of our trip this way.

  10. wandering educators

    excellent tips!!

  11. What a ridiculous suggestion that families need to spend upwards of $4000 a week on a vacation… who are these “travel writers”!!?!? I’m wondering if they, themselves, do any travel outside of press trips to swanky resort and cruises if they truly think this amount of cash is needed for travel.

    We spent under US$8000 on a 9 week trip around South East Asia. Three countries, three people and not really roughing it at all. That was INCLUDING flights from Australia and back to New Zealand.

  12. Love this post. Although I am baffled by the fact that a family of four can eat on vacation for a week for $450. My groceries at home cost nearly that much. And a huge part of my vacation experience is eating local. I think I might have a food problem!

    1. We were able to keep costs down in Ireland because of the incredible breakfasts at the B&Bs. Really, with lots meat, eggs, bread, potatoes and tea it’s enough to keep you going most of the day! (Plus, my kids are younger than yours!)

    2. Tamara (We3Travel)

      Great post! I always try to tell people that you don’t have to be rich to take vacations or even travel internationally. It does help that we usually use miles and points to fly, but even if you aren’t a frequent flier, there are tons of ways to earn these points. Our trips have been a little on the higher side (which I guess NY Times would define as budget), but I agree with Shannon, we spend a lot more to eat! I guess we like our food too but we usually budget about $200 a day for food and many times exceed that. I don’t like to cook on vacation, even when we get an apartment, although we will usually eat breakfast at the apartment. I’ve had a saying that I’ll never say no to a book or food. So if we are out and my daughter wants to try something new, I let her, even if I’m pretty sure that 27 euro hake is going to go mostly to waste. It isn’t economical but she has become a somewhat adventurous eater and gets offended if offered chicken fingers. She has become an expensive date and my husband and I love good food and wine. I’m sure this is one area where we could really save.

  13. Danielle

    How crazy to suggest $4500 is budget travel. If that is what it really cost I would never go anywhere. We are looking forward to a upcoming trip to the Gold Coast.
    I purchased a Scoopon for 5 nights accommodation at the Sea World Nara Resort including entrance to Sea World, Movie World, Wet and Wild and a Farm Adventure for a family of four: $895
    Flights for a family of four from Cairns to the Gold Coast: $560
    I am yet to cost food and a hire car but the entire budget will come in well under $2000

  14. I laughed at the definition of budget travel vacation priced at $4500 WITHOUT airfare. Crazy! Thanks for sharing how real-life examples on how to do it for less. Very inspiring!

  15. Allison

    Their budget vacation would be a luxury vacation for our family. It’s easier to travel more often when you find ways to do it for less. Off-season travel, local travel, and road trips are a good way to get started on a real budget vacation. Our family loves to visit national parks. They are great for all ages and the entrance fee is typically $25 or less per car for an entire week.

  16. Tawanna, worldtravelmom - Mom's Guide To Travel

    The NY Times article is precisely why more families think they can’t do travel. It takes a little elbow grease, flexibility, and research but you can certainly do not only Orlando on a budget, far less than $4000 and can take any family trip you want southward of that price point. We certainly didn’t spend that much on our family of 4 to the Cayman Islands in July but we also did food shopping, made our own food, traveled during the off season and found plenty of free things to do too. Great piece!

  17. Jonathan

    If you budget and do your research, a trip to NYC can be pretty affordable as well. Tons of free landmarks, housing options like short term rentals and micro hotels, and you can utilize services like Yelp to find some delicious, affordable food.

  18. Great post! It makes me think of how silly I thought it was when I found out my sister spends over $4500 on her annual week-long trip to Disney World (from PA) for her family of four. That’s what Kevin and I spent–not even roughing it–for a month in Chile and Peru, including Patagonia, Machu Picchu and ridiculously expensive Easter Island!

    But to each their own. I’d send this to her if I didn’t think it would start a family brawl 🙂

  19. Heidi Wagoner

    It is amazing what we all think is “budget”. When my family of 4 was living in the US, I could make the international vacation money stretch very far, just as in some of your more frugal examples. Now we are living in Spain on less than $3000 a month ant that includes road trips and exploration! Life is good if travel is the priority, then you can make it work. Thanks for sharing this.

  20. Kara {Our Whole Village}

    Great post! Love the itineraries and the validation that you really can travel as a family and have fun on a smaller budget.

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