10 MORE Europe Travel Hacks

Last year, I brainstormed a list of my 10 favorite travel hacks, tips, and expert insights gleaned from two decades traveling for Rick Steves’ Europe. It was one of my most-viewed posts ever…and ever since, I’ve been collecting a new batch. Here are 10 more practical strategies and how-tos to make your next European trip smoother than ever.

Visit major sights late in the day.

In this age of “overtourism,” Europe’s top sights are jam-packed. To avoid the crowds, your best bet is to make a reservation. But if you’re winging it, count on long lines.

One way to mitigate your wait is to show up as close to closing time as you think is reasonable. Figure out (conservatively) about how much time you need to see the sight, then subtract that from the closing time, and figure an extra 15-30 minutes of buffer in case there’s a short line.

In addition to saving time in line, arriving late in the day creates a mellower sightseeing experience: If a museum is ever going to be “quiet,” it’s during those serene moments just before the attendants start scurrying from room to room, shooing everyone out.

This “show up late” strategy worked like a charm for me this summer in London (St. Paul’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court Palace); Paris (the Orsay, Rodin Museum, Sainte-Chapelle, Versailles); and Rome (Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica). While I still had to wait in lines at some of those places, they were much shorter than they would’ve been a few hours earlier.

Bonus hack: Find out if the sight ever has extended hours. In Paris, my hotel was near the Orsay, and every time I walked past, I saw long lines snaking out the front door. So I waited until Thursday evening, when I knew it was open late (until 9:45 p.m.). I showed up around 6:30, waltzed right in, and had the world’s best collection of Impressionist paintings virtually to myself.

One caveat: A few super-popular sights effectively require reservations. For example, there’s never not a long line at the Eiffel Tower. A good guidebook will help you figure out which sights these are. (I happen to know one.)

Always ask for a quiet room.

At any hotel, someone has to take the noisy ground-floor room facing the busy street. And invariably, that “someone” will be the guest who doesn’t specify otherwise. Obviously, requesting a quiet room is essential for light sleepers like me. (Check out my tips for traveling insomniacs.) But it’s sound advice for anyone who doesn’t want to hear each and every bus rumble past, day and night.

There is one key exception: If you’re a rock-solid sleeper who enjoys having a view, you may want to skip this tip. In some hotels, the quietest rooms face away from the best views. The choice is yours. But one thing’s for sure: If you don’t make the choice for yourself, someone else will.

Save on bank fees.

It’s been many years since I exchanged money before arriving in a country. User-friendly ATMs are everywhere (I’ve never seen an airport without one, ever, anywhere) — and they offer generally better rates and fewer fees. But savvy travelers can choose their specific ATM carefully to minimize fees.

I always look for an ATM that’s affiliated with a major bank (like Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Barclays, or the local equivalent). I try to avoid ones that are owned and operated by a currency-exchange company. (These include Euronet, Travelex, Moneybox, Cardpoint, and Cashzone.)

Why? A major bank sticks to the standard, equitable bank-to-bank rate, whereas an exchange company will always use a rate that’s favorable to them. Unfortunately, in some cases — such as at certain airports, where an exchange company has a monopoly — you may not have a choice of ATMs. In that case, I might get a small amount on arrival, then top up later with a larger withdrawal at a bank-owned ATM.

Another hack: Whether using an ATM or making a purchase with your credit card, you’ll likely be asked whether you want to pay in dollars or in the local currency. Always choose the local currency. If you select dollars, you’re giving the vendor (or its bank) permission to dictate the exchange rate, which will always be unfavorable to you. When they ask, “Do you want to pay in dollars?”, they might as well be asking, “Do you want us to cheat you out of some money?”

For more details, check out our cash and currency tips for Europe.

When crossing a busy street, draft behind a sweet old lady.

In many parts of Europe — especially big cities — drivers enjoy playing chicken with pedestrians. Even when using a crosswalk, I take comfort when I’m able to cross in the shadow of a local. And the best possible blocker for navigating a busy intersection is Nonna Luisa. Not only does she know when it’s safe — but when cars see her crossing, they slam on the breaks. (When they see me crossing alone, they speed up.) A group of adorable preschoolers or a no-nonsense, power-dressing local businessperson works like a charm, too.

Pack smart for picnics on road trips.

One of my favorite parts of a road trip is enjoying a picnic of local foods in a stunning natural setting. When packing for a road trip, I bring along key picnic gear: a very lightweight, collapsible cooler; some picnic ware (reusable cutlery and light plastic plates save money and reduce waste); an ample supply of resealable plastic baggies; and — if I plan to check my bag — a Swiss army knife.

Armed with a cooler, I can stock on up perishable items (yogurt for breakfast, cream for my coffee) and memorable local treats (salami and other charcuterie, interesting local spreads, a world of funky French cheeses from the fromagerie).

On days when I’m in transit, I fill up a plastic water bottle not quite to the top and stick it in the freezer the night before (rather than bringing or buying ice packs). In the morning, the frozen bottle goes into the cooler with my perishables — and keeps things just cold enough until I arrive at that night’s stop.

Note: This assumes your accommodations have a fridge and freezer (such as an Airbnb or other rental apartment). If staying at hotels, you could keep your perishables in the minibar and fill up a resealable plastic baggie from the ice machine before you take off in the morning. At a B&B, try politely asking your host whether they’d mind storing a few items in the fridge for you overnight.

Dry out your swimsuit in seconds with a centrifuge.

There’s nothing quite as unappealing as wringing out a dripping swimsuit, wrapping it up in a plastic sack, and jamming it into your suitcase…only to pull out a moldy mess a few days later. Fortunately, many aquatic attractions — such as the world-class thermal baths in Hungary, and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and thermal swimming pools — provide the perfect solution: a small centrifuge. Just stick in your suit, press down on the lid, feel it go for a super-spin-cycle lasting a few seconds, and pull out a suit that’s barely damp. Typically hidden away in some dark corner of in the locker room, these are very easy to miss, especially if you’re not looking for one. So…look for one.

Park carefully.

In densely populated, efficiency-minded Europe, everything is smaller: Pint-sized hotel rooms…tiny towels…miniscule parking spaces. When renting a car, I always request the smallest possible model — both for fuel efficiency, and because I know I’ll be wedging it into itsy-bitsy parking spaces. On the rare occasions when I’ve dinged a bumper, it was because the rental agent had upgraded me to a midsize. Like that time in Wales when parking my car in my B&B’s tiny, stone-walled lot felt like a real-life game of Tetris. (Whoops!)

Take your time when nudging your car through these tight squeezes, and don’t hesitate to have your navigator hop out so they can start screaming just before you scuff the Lambroghini in the next space. When parking in a soon-to-be-packed garage, I’ll back into my space (or, better yet, pull through to an outward-facing space) to avoid having to back out later.

Bonus hacks: When paying at a parking meter, you’ll often need to punch your rental car’s license plate number into the machine. It’s almost always printed on the keychain; otherwise, snap a photo of it on your phone (to avoid a long hike back through the parking lot to jot it down). If parking in a giant, multistory garage, I also snap a photo of my space number so I can find it later.

Get on the first or last car of the Metro.

Earlier this summer, I spent several weeks in London, Paris, and Rome — often traversing the congested city center at rush hour. And in all that time spent waiting on subway platforms, I noticed a stable pattern: On any given train, the middle cars were crammed like sardine cans, while the cars at the start and end had more room. I made it a habit to walk to either end of the platform, and it reliably earned me a less crowded, more enjoyable commute. Sometimes, I even got a seat.

This also works for intercity trains: When you reach the head of platform, rather than hopping on the first (cramped) car, walk a few cars down the line…and you’ll have your pick of seats.

Suffer through the tedious commute on your day of arrival…when you’re miserable anyway.

If you’re visiting both the capital city and an outlying smaller town — for example, London and Bath, or Madrid and Toledo, or Rome and Orvieto — consider this strategy: Fly into the big city, then travel onward to the secondary destination that same afternoon. There you can settle into a mellower environment, have some time to recover from your long flight, and adjust to jet lag. By the time you move on to the energy-draining big city, you’re already rested up and acclimated. I’ve done this again and again when planning itineraries, and I’m always glad that I did. I’d so much rather spend my first night in a floodlit small town than in an intense metropolis.

Sure, it adds a bit of stress to that day of arrival. But I assume that I’ll be a jet-lagged zombie anyway…so I might as well doze off on the train. Also, for me, the hardest part about jet lag is staying awake that first night until a reasonable bedtime. If I’m already checked into my hotel by lunchtime, I spend the rest of the day fighting the temptation to take a nap. Using that time for travel — and reaching my final destination closer to bedtime — is an ideal solution.

Check out more advice for crafting a European itinerary.

Take advantage of home remedies and travel gizmos to solve real problems.

You never really master the art of travel — you’re always on the learning curve. And the more I travel, the more I enjoy the challenge of finding the perfect solution to a long-vexing problem. Whether it’s an elegantly simple home remedy or a perfectly designed gizmo, there is a fix for your travel headache.

Recently I got a new pair of shoes that squeaked loudly once I inserted an insole. A quick online search revealed the elegantly simple solution: Just sprinkle in a little talcum powder. Problem solved.

For years, I’d simply throw my razor into the little mesh side-pouch of my toiletries kit. But over time, it ripped a hole in the pouch, and the exposed blade would occasional nick my finger. Finally, I searched for advice on this problem and discovered multiple solutions: You can clip one of those giant paper clips over the razor…or buy a “razor saver,” designed just for this purpose. (I just invested in one and plan to test-drive it on my upcoming trip.) Either of these solutions protects your bag (and your fingers) while also extending the life of your blade.

Here’s another example: While driving in Europe, I used to struggle to keep one eye on the road and the other on my smartphone’s GPS driving directions. Finally, I bought a suction-cup attachment for the windshield. It worked great, but it was bulky in my luggage, and some rental agencies forbid them (because they can leave a permanent ring on the glass). Looking around online for a better option, I finally discovered the perfect solution: A vent mount has rubbery prongs that you insert into your dashboard air vents. And, unlike those giant windshield suckers, it’s tiny and super-packable — about the size and weight of a pack of gum. Again — problem solved.

What problem have you come up with a creative solution for? Share your ideas — and your own favorite travel hacks — in the Comments.

Affiliate Disclosure: I receive not one dime from any product or service mentioned in this post. Like all of our travel advice at Rick Steves’ Europe, these hacks are based entirely on my own judgment, formed by years of European travel. If I help someone sell a few more razor protectors or vent mounts with this post, that’s just fine with me — but only if it helps you have a better trip.

Don’t miss my earlier list of 10 Europe Travel Hacks. And for packing-specific tips, check out my 10 Little Things I Won’t Go to Europe Without, and my Five Electronics Essentials for Traveling in Europe.

For a big ol’ book of travel hacks, tips, and advice, pick up a copy of our flagship travel-skills handbook: Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door.

Happy travels!

46 Replies to “10 MORE Europe Travel Hacks”

  1. Go to the big museums late in the day; I toured the Louvre at 3:00 and had some of the galleries to myself!
    Pack light and follow a simple color scheme. No one will see you twice.
    Wear walking shoes everywhere during the day. Save your nice shoes for dinner – and eat in the neighborhood.
    Study the metro and bus maps and use them as often as is safe.
    Limit your shopping – you have to get it home.
    Use colored stuff bags to organize your clothes and notions.
    NEVER leave your hotel without a map and the name of your hotel printed out on something.
    Unless you are a professional photographer, don’t take so many pictures; you slow down your group or your companions.
    Be present to where you are and enjoy the experience! You may never come back.
    Be flexible: if something is closed, go somewhere else and be happy about it!

  2. I always travel with a couple of mailing tubes. I can stuff my socks or underwear in the tubes on the trip over and if I find a poster or something else fragile, I can put them in the tube and they’ll survive the trip home.

    1. One of my tricks has been to pack worn but still wearable underwear and then throw it away as I’m going or at the end of the trip. We’ve all got those pairs of underwear in the bottom of the drawer that should probably be tossed out, might as well save some room in your return luggage!

  3. * Don’t pack more than you can carry up a couple flights of stairs by yourself.
    * Have backup plans in case of transportation or weather-related issues.
    * Try to learn a few words or phrases in the native language of where you’re visiting.
    * Make train reservations, even if you have a rail pass. Double check departure times and locations, and schedule enough time for plane or train transfers.
    * Carry a water bottle and don’t pass up an opportunity to refill it or top it off.
    * Have enough cash on you in case they don’t take (your) credit cards, and have change in case they charge for bathroom use.
    * Bring extra camera batteries and have them and all your gadgets all charged up and ready to go. And bring your chargers (and plug adapters) with you when you’re gone for the day, you never know when you’ll need to recharge something and find a handy outlet.
    * Keep a travel pack of tissues (or a roll of Charmin-to-Go) and a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you. There’s going to be that one time you’ll be glad you did.

  4. Go to AAA and get $100 in local currency for each city you travel to – comes in handy for a taxi from airport and meals on the first day at a location.

    When not easily within walking distance with luggage to a taxi stand, ask an airbnb superhost to call a radio taxi for your return to an airport/ train depot.

    No slip rug pads cut to airplane tray size keep your child’s travel pillow from falling off tray.

    Google Translate camera reads ingredients list on supermarket goods if you need to avoid allergens.

    1. Thank you for the Google Translate camera tip! I’ve used Google Translate for years but didn’t realize you could use it to “read” and translate. Merci beaucoup!

      1. To use Google Translate offline, remember to download the offline language packs you will use via wifi. Practice with it at home and you will soon be a pro! The latest app update is very easy to use.

    2. That Google translate has been beyond helpful as we tour the countryside in Hungary! These menus are mostly Hungarian and German. We love the authenticity but appreciate knowing what we are ordering.

    3. Love the rug pad idea. I’m doing this right now! No kids or pillows, but I get multiple drinks, like water and juice or coffee, and always worry about them sliding around.

  5. Pack a few favorite mini liqueur bottles in your carry on bag of liquids. It makes for a celebratory night cap once you reach your travel destination or special location. They can always be refilled for future reuse, too.

  6. You’re referencing a binder clip (medium sized), specifically, for covering the head of a razor. I can attest that this works well.
    And if you want clothes (socks, bras, and t-shirts, particularly—not recommended for underwear) to wear multiple times and remain fresh, add a cup of baking soda to your wash rinse cycle and dry as usual before packing.

  7. When you freeze plastic water bottles for your soft-sided cooler squeeze them a little before tightening the cap.
    When flying into and out of the same city, upon arrival we hop into our car and head away from the city. The challenge is staying awake after 5:00 p.m. so never drive when you feel sleepy and try to schedule a shorter trip. We turn in our car upon arrival back at the city and use public transportation for our stay there.
    We keep a “bible” which has all our reservations for places we stay, car rentals and other transportation in the order we will use them. When we are done with one we move it to the back (we don’t throw them away in case I need a spelling for my journal). We also have a separate sheet with proposed itineraries for each day- always subject to revision.
    We take a Garmin ( we also take a road map) and we take kindles instead of books. Sometimes we will remove pages from Guide Books before we leave and as we go to save room.
    Once in Europe we usually buy a sealable small bottle of olive oil for our picnics.
    Before we leave any city I demand to see everyone’s passport. I keep ours in a pocket in my backpack.
    Global Entry is well worth it.
    I set up a Charles Schwab account for the sole reason for ATM’s. Best rates no fees. It also came in handy in Iceland because it is a debit card and their fuel stations did not accept credit cards without a PIN.
    This past summer I wore over hiking boots (Iceland and Scotland) and took athletic shoes. That was it. I used to take sandals but not any more.
    If you go to London make sure you have a contactless credit card as that makes it very easy to use the Underground- tap and go (you will need one for each traveller). Most shops and restaurants are set up for them also.
    When studying the language one phrase I always try to master is “check please”

    When I learn phrases

    1. Our travel book “bible” starts with our itinerary (the day we purchase tickets) and includes all paperwork for everything-reservations, bus schedule to airport, accommodation info, pre-purchased tickets, site info-which we can pull out to take for the days trek, car rental info, if we are planning something, it’s there. I get that most is “paperless” now but alas, when computers are down, cell is dead or worse, no service (much like our Fabulous stay in the countryside in Hungary), my paper gets us what and where we need to be! I bring a Kindle for reading but Yep, we are dinosaurs

      1. Good advice, but I always store the digital copies of this info (Word documents, PDFs, etc.) on my phone so that I still have that info even if I lose the paper copies.

  8. Even if you are on a super-tight budget, there are always great finds at the outdoor markets, they are at fixed locations in larger cities or weekly in smaller towns. Seasonally appropriate items – from t-shirts and sundresses to sweaters and leather coats – are as cheap as you would find at Target but with a European flair. Shoes and bags too….Yes, generally (though you may be surprised) you get what you pay for, but they serve their purpose and look great. This is useful to know while packing – you don’t need those last-second trips for more white tees. Trust me on this.

  9. I tried to nun idea in Rome. They almost got hit by some crazy driver!!
    Late afternoon works perfect for many museums.
    I do utilize a money belt, and have not yet had a problem.
    In case I get lost, bring a business card from my hotel, so I won’t forget the address.
    When doing a lot of walking, I take pictures of something that stands out, when I make a left or right turn. Its like leaving bread crumbs and I can get back to the hotel that way with ease.

    1. The hotel business card idea is also great in case you are hurt, unconscious, etc., so authorities will know where you are staying. That way they can contact your friends or family, if separated, as to what happened to you.

  10. My female friend always takes mini-pads to wear so that she doesn’t have to change underwear as often. A friend also used one to bandage my leg when I had a deep cut to the bone while backpacking.

    1. On our last day in Vienna I discovered my breast prosthesis had sprung a couple of leaks in the night. I cut a mini pad into strips and held it together until I got home a couple of weeks later, and longer, until I could buy a new one.

  11. I take a dual voltage charging hub with exchangeable plugs (euro, China,etc,) that has a longer cord that can be plugged in a wall socket and left on a desk or bedside table. It can charge multiple items and is less likely to be accidentally left behind. Great for making friends in the airport where there are few outlets.
    I also tend to change shoes halfway through the day if possible. I find this really saves my feet. I always carry bandaids or compeed pads just in case.
    Toilet paper and hand sanitizer is a must in China as facilities are somewhat lacking. Restrooms are always an adventure and a great source of entertaining travel stories.

  12. To avoid using wireless data abroad, I use the free, satellite-based app Maps.ME I create a list for each city, marking points of interest. The app works like a gps and will tell you every turn. It even has the ability to import any maps I made in Google Maps. And I don’t have to pay for an international data plan. Bonus!

    There are several no-rinse laundry products out there. Find them at your local yarn shop or online. I like Soak, and the unscented or very light “celebration ” scent is good.

    1. I use maps.me also on my smartphone. It has served me well both walking and cycling overseas.
      One caveat: GPS used on maps.me is a battery-drainer. So I carry a small portable battery-pack that I plug into my smartphone. It effectively can recharge my smartphone up to 2.50 times. When cycling I put the smartphone on the handlebars (attached to a quadlock) and put the battery-pack in a handlebar bag.

  13. Take photos of your suitcases if you are checking them in – in case they are lost or misplaced. Once they had to find our suitcases from one plane so that we could check them in on another plane due to a change of flights and I was amazed that they actually were able to locate them quickly and I think my photos helped.

    1. For checked in luggage, lost or misplaced suitcases are always tracked by the baggage claim number. It’s a good idea if you ask to have your baggage ticket stapled or taped to you ticket sleeve and keep it with your passport. After numerous trips to Europe, only once did my checked bag not arrive at my destination. On that occasion the airline was able to locate where my bag was and delivered it to my hotel the following day.

  14. I travel to Paris twice a year for 4weeks. I never get money at the airport as CDG has now tucked the bank connected ATM strategicaaly unfindable.
    I always leave Paris with €500 to make arrival and first days less stressful. I also keep bank fees low by withdrawing €1000 amounts, and placed in the appartment’s safe. Also keep in mind that there are currently French Govt regulations which cap the amount that can be withdrawn, on my last trip it was limited to €500 per week. I overcome this by going to two banks within ‘sprinting distance’.

  15. My husband and I have identical carry on bags, but his tends to be heavier. And, while we both have white hair, he is several years older and finds those endless staircases in the London underground more difficult than me. But some gallant young man would always offer to help, and would carry my bag down for me. I started taking the heavier bag, making my husband’s easier for him to handle.

  16. I have for years traveled with a knife (fork, spoon) in the outside of my toiletries kit. For the knife I just folded an index card, taped it, slid it on the blade, and used small paperclip to keep it in place. When it gets ratty I replace it. Works great

  17. I had to laugh while reading your recent article 10 More Europe Travel Hacks.
    My wife asked if I had written it.

    “On the rare occasions when I’ve dinged a bumper, it was because the rental agent had upgraded me to a midsize. Like that time in Wales when parking my car in my B&B’s tiny, stone-walled lot felt like a real-life game of Tetris. (Whoops!)”

    Yes! Except mine was at a B&B’s tiny stone-walled lot in Bath. Because, as with your other tip – “Fly into the big city, then travel onward to the secondary destination that same afternoon. There you can settle into a mellower environment, have some time to recover from your long flight, and adjust to jet lag.” – that seemed like a great idea. We arrived in Heathrow and hit the road. Except that by the time we got to Bath I was so tired I couldn’t tell if the car was in 1st or Reverse, and that’s when I met the wall.

    Thanks. At least your tips confirmed that I was thinking like a pro.

  18. The last thing I pack in all of my suitcases or backpacks or purse is a sheet of paper with my name and contact info, including email address. On several occasions the name tag on my luggage was lost or stolen so the inside label is there to help identify whose luggage it is.

  19. What great helpful hints! I use a colored strap to identify my suitcase and then put that in the safe with my passport and other items I want to keep secluded. Then when I leave it always reminds me to double check the safe! And I also wrap my phone charger around my keys and next to my shoes. I get so excited when traveling I have to give myself reminders!
    Thanks for being the best travel site in the world!

  20. Ladies, bring a scarf, no matter the season —a big, soft, lightweight cotton one. Great for too cold airplanes, covering your head in a mosque, covering shoulders in a church, and a myriad of other situations you might find yourself in. Trust me on this.

  21. Love all these tips! One thing I do differently is I don’t try to get to my secondary destination quickly. If I can’t fly direct, instead of the shortest connection, I choose the longest. For Europe, that usually means arriving in Heathrow in the afternoon and taking an early flight in the morning. If I book enough in advance I can find a $40 room (premier inn) either connected or a free bus from the airport. I check in to the hotel nearest my next flight and relax, have a nice meal, good night sleep, and focus on the trip ahead. Then I am able to take the first flight out in the morning and get to my new destination refreshed and in the right frame of mind. It also can save money if I have chosen a nicer more expensive hotel room that I won’t enjoy because I have jet lag or get in a midnight. On my last trip to Greece, both ways the plane between LA and London was delayed. Everyone was stressed, angry and frantically trying to change transportation, hotel and tour arrangements. I also do the same thing on the way home to have time to reflect on my trip and reenter my normal life in the best frame of mind.

  22. Wash-and-wear is our stand-by on these long trips, as we don’t want to spend time at a laundromat. We bring along a small container of detergent, a clothesline, and large plastic clips, and make good use of the sink for washing and the tub/shower stall for drip-drying at night.

  23. I never iron anymore, even at home. When you travel, take a tiny spray bottle (pharmacies have them). Fill it with water and spray wrinkled clothes at least a couple of hours before you need to wear them. Hang them to dry, and they’ll be wrinkle-free. Works with every fabric I’ve tried it with.

  24. Large banks have international partners. If you use the ATM of the partner bank, you not only get a good exchange rate, you do not pay ATM fees. Before traveling abroad, we always check to see who the partner bank is in the country we are traveling too. For our bank we can find this on the bank’s website. Typically the partner is a large national bank and very easy to find the bank’s ATMs. This also allows us to carry less cash as we can visit the ATM frequently without paying fees.

  25. Your tip to follow a sweet old lady when crossing the street reminded me of something that happened to us in Rome. We were going to the airport by taxi. Near the Colosseum, the taxi driver came oh so close to hitting a nun!

  26. If you have contactless pay (Apple Pay, Android Pay, etc.) on your phone, use it. It is so much easier than paying with your credit card. It is widely available in Europe (much more so than in the US) for lower cost transactions. There were usually limits on how much you could use it for, but for most everything under 50 pounds, Euros, CHF, etc., you could use it. Sometimes, I was able to use it for more expensive transactions. Among other things, unlike regular credit card transactions, you don’t have to sign anything, which is typically required for most US credit cards. Also, you can leave your credit card tucked safely in your waist wallet for all but larger transactions.

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