Top Budget Travel Destinations for 2010


Each year, we pore over industry news and trends and dive through mounds of statistics to determine the world's new best-value destinations. Find out why our picks are more affordable than ever—and how to have fun once you get there.


Why in 2010: Long loved by Pacific Northwesterners, Portland's signature cool, quirky style has been exported nationwide via hometown companies like Stumptown Coffee Roasters and ecofriendly clothier Nau. The city's locavore-friendly food scene is starting to rival Seattle's and San Francisco's; notable newcomers include butcher-shop-cum-hip-steakhouse Laurelhurst Market ( and the tavern Ned Ludd, praised for using Luddite (or low-tech) means of preparing classic comfort foods ( Despite the hype, Portland, which drew nearly 9 million visitors in 2009 (up 25 percent from 2006), remains surprisingly affordable to visit. Low-cost carriers JetBlue and Southwest serve Portland, and with more than 900 downtown hotel rooms added in the last three years, increased competition means that small, stylish stays are available at budget prices.

With the city's profile on the rise and the mini hotel boom leveling off (just one new property is expected in 2010), the next few years are likely to see significant increases in flight and hotel costs. If you've been thinking about Portland for some time, go now before prices are out of control.

Main events: The renowned Portland Classical Chinese Garden marks its 10th anniversary with 10 days of free admission (, Jan. 2–11). More than 120,000 music fans attend the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival every year (, July 2–5); the suggested donation of $10 and two cans of food per day will benefit the Oregon Food Bank. Nearly every weekend brings an offbeat event like the Portland Pirate Festival, which last year set a world record for most "pirates" gathered in one spot (, Sept. 18–19, from $12).

Memorable moment: Line up at one of roughly 400 food carts citywide and sample everything from quinoa-hempseed pancakes at the Ruby Dragon (, $3.50) to BBQ brisket pie at Whiffies Fried Pies (, $4). Wash your food down with a pint at the Widmer Brothers brewery, which ignited Portland's craft-beer obsession when it opened in 1984 (, free tours and tastings Fridays and Saturdays). Rent a bike and live like a local, tooling around on the city's many trails and paths (Portland Bicycle Tours,, from $20 a day).

Price check: A recent Kayak search found round-trip flights in May as low as $199 from Long Beach (JetBlue), $220 from New York City (Delta), and $300 from Miami (Delta). Arty accommodations include the music-and-local-history-themed Crystal Hotel, slated to open this summer (, under $100); the year-and-a-half-old Hotel Modera (, from $99); and the hip Ace, where perks include free bikes (, from $110). Consider skipping the rental car: The MAX light rail connects the airport to downtown for only $2.30, and you can travel by rail throughout the downtown for free.


Why in 2010: The city of Las Vegas is hoping that what happened in Vegas in 2009 stays in 2009. The city relies on business conventions to fuel its economy, and last year's 26 percent falloff in convention attendance was a major factor in the average nightly hotel rate's drop of 24 percent, to $91. No one expects the convention business to pick up significantly in 2010, so all signs indicate another year of amazing prices for lodgings—especially because there are about 14,000 more rooms to fill than a year ago. Nearly 1,000 of those are tucked into new towers at the Hard Rock Hotel and the Golden Nugget, and that's small potatoes compared to the $8.5 billion, 67-acre CityCenter, which was completed in 2009 and is more like a whole new neighborhood than a mere resort.

Main events: Entertainment goddess Bette Midler is ending her immensely popular run of performances at Caesars Palace on January 31 (, from $50). Watching college basketball's March Madness tournament on dozens of flat screens at a sports book is way more exciting than following them via your office pool (Mar. 16–Apr. 5). The real Vegas sport, though, stretches from May to July, when the Rio Hotel & Casino hosts the World Series of Poker (, free to watch, buy-ins from $500).

Memorable moment: Hit the Stratosphere Tower to confront Insanity, the Ride, a mechanical arm that spins you at three g's while you dangle more than 900 feet in the air (, admission $16, rides from $12), or head downtown for the wild light-and-laser show at the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block open-air pedestrian mall (, free).

Price check: As of December 2009, 43 casino hotels offered rooms for less than $40 a night, and seven had rates under $20. Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon is a no-frills favorite renowned for 99¢ margaritas (served 24/7) and midweek $40 rooms just off the Strip next to the Flamingo ( Even upscale should be cheap this year: Stay at the chic CityCenter's Vdara Hotel & Spa from $129 (


Why in 2010: There's reason to celebrate, and also reason to get a little misty-eyed. This year marks Glacier's 100th anniversary as a national park, and festivities are sprinkled throughout the calendar. At the same time, it's hard to overlook the fact that the crusty old beauty of a park, located on 1 million acres in northwestern Montana, has changed a lot over the years: Only 26 of its namesake glaciers exist today, down from 150 in 1850. And if warming trends continue, estimates suggest there could be none by 2020. In other words, time to see the park in all its icy glory is running out. If you're heading to Glacier for its centennial, affordability is built-in, especially if you can drive there: A seven-day entry pass is $25 per vehicle in the summer (when the peaks are still capped in snow but most trails are suitable for hiking), and $15 in the winter, and low-cost lodgings and activities make our national parks a perennial choice for a cost-effective vacation.

Main events: While many specifics haven't been announced, the park is hosting special events between May and September, when much of the backcountry is accessible ( Thus far, activities include epic group hikes to some of the highest summits; a folk-singing "Roadshow Hootenanny" at Many Glacier Hotel (, July 29–Aug. 1, free), and heritage tours coordinated by Belton Chalet that re-create the early 1900s park experience via trains, horseback, and authentic 1930s-era red sedans, known to locals as jammer buses (, Aug. 18–23, fees not yet announced).

Memorable moment: Drive to one of the two main hubs, Apgar Transit Center or St. Mary Visitor Center, and hop a free shuttle to Logan Pass at the summit of Glacier's famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Start a moderately difficult, phenomenally scenic, 7.6-mile downhill hike along the Highline Trail. Panoramas of glaciers, meadows, and craggy peaks are guaranteed on all but the cloudiest days, and with any luck, you'll spot bighorn sheep and mountain goats.

Price check: Glacier Park Lodge, a gorgeous early-1900s structure that incorporates immense fir and cedar columns—each 40 feet long and more than three feet in diameter—delivers $129 rooms and $159 family rooms for stays before June 17. After that, rates go up to $140 and $199, respectively ( Two "fee-free" days are National Public Lands Day (September 25) and Veterans Day (November 11). Expect additional fee-free days to be announced. For updated park info, visit Unless you live nearby, a rental car is a must-have, and economy-class rentals at nearby airports start at $270 per week (including taxes and fees).


Why in 2010: Yes, Mexico again. A year ago, we chose the country as a budget destination because of the strength of the U.S. dollar against the Mexican peso. In 2009, the dollar kept making headway, and in October it hit its most favorable point versus the peso in 16 years. In 2010, the value of the dollar is expected to remain strong. You can travel affordably across Mexico—to popular destinations like Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, for example. But the combination of water and land sports makes Baja California special. Exhibit A: The southern cape town of Cabo San Lucas is home to seven acclaimed public golf courses (including two designed by Jack Nicklaus) as well as several established deep-sea-fishing tour operators, who ply waters that have long attracted famous anglers like Ernest Hemingway.

With the recession and the swine flu discouraging travel, this West Coast peninsula has endured an incredibly tough two years. Baja has responded to hard times by reducing hotel rates by up to 30 percent or by adding perks to already cheap packages. Case in point: a three-night stay for two at the Playa Grande Resort & Grand Spa—on a private beach in Cabo San Lucas—includes an on-beach dinner, massages, round-trip airport transfers, and a $50 restaurant gift certificate, starting at $241 per night (

Flights into Baja are cheaper and easier than in the past, too, especially if you're coming from the central or eastern parts of the U.S. American Airlines has added flights from Dallas and Chicago, and low-cost Mexican carrier Volaris has added domestic links to Baja's main hub of Los Cabos from Mexico City. Tickets on Volaris via the capital's secondary airport, Toluca, are as low as $39 each way (

Main events: Discover the redeveloped San José Del Cabo, just 20 miles north of resort-filled Cabo San Lucas.* In the last two years, it's become the place to go if you want culture with your beach vacation, thanks to Thursday gallery nights and new restaurants serving locally accented new Mexican cuisine. In the Baja capital of La Paz, September 15 starts a two-day celebration of Mexico's bicentennial. The governor kicks off the festivities by shouting ¡Mexicanos, viva México! and the crowd answers with the national anthem (

Memorable moment: In Cabo San Lucas, get up early, rent a kayak from one of the shacks along Médano Beach, and paddle out to snorkel off Playa del Amor, near the iconic El Arco rock formation. Head back by 11 a.m., when high winds and tourists come pouring in, and then drop by Doña Olga's down-home Tacos Gardenias to dine on cactus tacos (, tacos de nopal, about $2, closed Mon.).

Price check: Hotel Siesta Suites in downtown Cabo San Lucas is considered a top value lodging option by TripAdvisor, with doubles from $68 ( Facing the Gulf of California near the 300-year-old mission in the quiet town of Loreto, the year-old La Mision is an ideal jumping off point to check out Baja's famous cave paintings, with rooms starting at $97 a night ( Round-trip fares for February 2010 recently started at $273 from L.A. (Mexicana), $296 from Minneapolis (United), $354 from Seattle (Alaska Airlines), and $379 from Phoenix and New York City.


Why in 2010: When the final 2009 numbers are tallied, the D.R. may overtake Jamaica as the Caribbean island country most visited by Americans. The year saw a spike in visitors from the U.S. despite a downturn in tourism across the Caribbean—but the country's increasing popularity has not translated into higher prices. The peso-to-dollar ratio remains favorable for Americans, and airfares are getting cheaper, too. In early 2010, according to forecasts from Bing Travel, average round-trip fares between U.S. gateways and the main D.R. airport in Santo Domingo will fall again, to about $377—a drop of 8 percent from early 2009.

The resort area of Punta Cana, a busy strand of beaches on the island's eastern coast, has long been a prime draw for U.S. travelers, but the Samaná Peninsula is a gorgeous—and considerably cheaper—alternative. The remote, 35-mile-long peninsula is studded with white-sand beaches and coconut trees, and the warm waters lure legions of humpback whales in the winter. While Samaná is mercifully undeveloped today, a new highway linking Santo Domingo with the peninsula was completed in 2009, and rapid growth can't be far behind. For now at least, lodging is relatively cheap. forecasts that in early 2010, the average nightly lodging rate in Samaná will be $168—much lower than the average in Punta Cana ($271). That's also far less than the rates in better-known destinations elsewhere in the Caribbean, such as Palm Beach, Aruba (recently averaging $236 per night), Providenciales, Turks & Caicos ($292), and Paradise Island, Bahamas ($360).

Main events: Samaná is still too quiet to have major events, but January through March is an ideal time for whale-watching, as thousands of humpback whales migrate to Samaná Bay to mate (sample tour: Whale Samaná,, through mid-March). February 27 brings street and beach parties in honor of the D.R.'s Independence Day, though smaller celebrations also take place on July 14 (Bastille Day) among the estimated 2,500 French expats on the peninsula.

Memorable moment: Fuel up on Dominican-grown coffee and flaky croissants made by French expats at the patisserie Sucré Salé on Plaza Taina (coffee 50¢), and then head out to the majestic, 170-foot-high Cascada el Limón waterfall. After the obligatory afternoon on the beach, start your evening at restaurants in Las Terrenas or the town of Samaná. Both destinations boast Dominican comida criolla, starring dishes such as sancocho, a tasty meat stew, and mangú, a hearty green-plantain puree.

Price check: Round-trip airfares for late February 2010 recently started at $266 from Miami (American, nonstop), $320 from New York (Spirit), and $348 from Chicago (Spirit). Through March 2010, a weeklong economy-class car rental recently ranged from $126 (Budget and Hertz). In early 2010, the 21-room neo-Victorian-style Villa Serena—surrounded by beaches and tropical gardens in the quiet village of Las Galeras—has starting rates of $148 for doubles (, while Villas Eva Luna lists doubles from $100 (


Why in 2010: After winning bids to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro—already a prized destination for American travelers—is emerging as an international superstar. A host of infrastructure projects are in the works to meet the expected crush of visitors in the coming years, which should add hundreds of hotel rooms and a high-speed rail line from São Paulo to Rio.

Unlike many of the destinations we recommend, Rio is not getting less expensive. Prices for hotels have continued to rise, if only slightly, through the recession year 2009, and the U.S. dollar has slumped against the Brazilian real in the same period, says Still, if you've always wanted to go to Rio and never made the time, we recommend you fly there before the construction cranes and general zaniness become a fixture in the city. Between now and the end of the decade, we expect Rio's star to continue to rise, and prices are likely to rise along with it. The good news: In 2009, airlines expanded routes, making the city easier and often cheaper to fly to. US Airways unveiled service to Rio from Charlotte, N.C., and Continental added new service from Houston and New Orleans.

Main events: If you plan to go during Carnaval, book tickets to see the elaborate samba parades in the Sambadrome from February 13 to 16, with the procession of drummers, whirling dancers, and giant mechanized floats lasting until dawn (find ticketsellers via, from $111). Things pick up again in June during the Festas Juninas (also known as Bonfire Festivals), with live music and fireworks on the city's main plazas. Celebrations revolve around the feast days of Saint Anthony (June 13), Saint John (June 24), and Saint Peter (June 29). Rio's international film festival, Festival do Rio, is held September 23 to October 7, with screenings of over 300 films from more than 60 countries (, prices not yet announced).

Memorable moment: Ascend Sugarloaf Mountain for breathtaking views of the city and Guanabara Bay. Most visitors take the cable car, which whisks passengers to the summit of the 1,300-foot-high granite peak. To see old-school bossa nova, visit Vinícius Show Bar in Ipanema, which features live bossa nova artists most nights of the week (, admission typically $10).

Price check: Visiting in late February and March (after Carnaval) means fewer crowds and mild summer weather. Airfares for round trips (with a layover each way) in March 2010 start at $580 from New York City (Copa), $600 from L.A. (Copa), and $846 from Houston (US Airways). The mid-range Orla Copacabana Hotel, overlooking the beach for which it's named, has double rooms starting at $135 per night ( Similar beachside inns are also offering low March 2010 nightly rates, including the Bandeirantes Hotel (, from $112) and the Ipanema Inn (, from $119). Note: You need to arrange a visa before you arrive (, $130, valid for five years).


Why in 2010: In the last year, the value of the U.S. dollar increased more against Argentina's peso than any other major currency, according to In other words, for U.S. travelers, the New Year is smiling on Argentina especially—and its capital, Buenos Aires, is a city everyone should see at least once. The mighty dollar should mean more steak, more post-tango drinks, and more theater tickets for American visitors.

Local inflation is a concern, however. If you can, travel in the first half of 2010, or you may face rising prices for goods and services. In the meantime, lodgings are relatively cheap. According to, the average price per room in Buenos Aires has fallen 19 percent since this time last year, to $114 in the first half of 2010. There's no reason to expect a reversal in that trend anytime soon.

Main events: On May 25, the country toasts the start of the Argentinean War of Independence two centuries ago, and a grand outdoor party is planned (, free). That night, the stately Teatro Colón opera house (built in 1908) is set to reopen-after several years of renovations-with a star-studded, aria-laced gala, followed by a season packed with opera, ballet, and orchestral music (, from around $25). For Grade-A cattle and horse shows within the city limits, look the 124th annual La Rural livestock fair's special bicentennial edition (, July 22–Aug. 3, admission $4).

Memorable moment: Do like the locals and stay up late. Milongas (tango halls) get kicking after midnight. Peñas (music clubs) start strumming around the same time. Nightclub doormen look at you funny if you arrive before 2 a.m. Tickets to theater shows like Tanguera, the tango-based musical (currently on tour), go for about $20. After catching a performance, stop to savor some fugazza—a slice of white pizza piled high with charred onions and mozzarella—along Buenos Aires's answer to Broadway, Avenida Corrientes. Try El Palacio de la Pizza for fugazza and other pizza varieties. 011-54/11-4322-0441, from 65¢ per slice.

Price check: March is a pleasant time to visit, with late summer weather prevailing. Rooms at the Art Hotel in Recoleta start at $95 ( and ones at the Mira Vida Soho in Palermo start at $120 ( Even more affordable, rooms at the city's seven NH Hoteles start from about $103 night ( March airfare was recently available from Miami starting at $673 (Avianca), from New York City starting at $797 (TAM), and from L.A. starting at $875 (Mexicana). Entrance to the famous Recoleta Cemetery is free. A hop-on, hop-off city tour on a new double-decker, open-top bus costs $13 per person ( Keep in mind that the Argentinean government now charges a $131 entry fee for U.S. air travelers (valid for the life of the passport).


Why in 2010: U.S. overnight stays in popular European capitals like Rome, London, and Paris dropped in 2009, but they were up 22 percent in Vienna in October alone, and were strong through the summer as well. The new popularity surely has something to do with Sacha Baron Cohen's smash movie Brüno, which starred a comically un-P.C. Austrian fashion designer. But the crowds are also celebrating Austria's rich culture; recently, a series of choral concerts commemorated the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn. In July 2010, the focus shifts to the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's birth, which should keep the music-lovers coming. The city is also luring visitors because of its ever more celebrated wine culture. Vienna has more than 1,700 acres of vineyards, some of them inside the city limits. No other major city in the world has thriving wineries within walking distance of downtown, and in recent years, many of Vienna's white wines have become the toast of the world.

Hotel rates, fortunately, have not caught up with the city's sudden-and well-deserved-popularity. According to, the city had an average nightly room rate of $138 in the first half of 2009, much cheaper than the European capitals it's starting to rival.

Main events: Countless events celebrate the birth of Mahler (info at and On February 11, stand outside the city's main opera house to see ballroom dancers wearing gorgeous outfits as they walk in to attend Vienna's Opera Ball (, people-watching free). Check out pop music concerts at Europe's biggest open-air event, Donauinselfest, held on an island in the Danube River (, June 25–27, free). On July 17, the Life Ball, Vienna's flamboyant AIDS charity event, showcases musical performances and a fashion show (, outdoor performances are free).

Memorable moment: Start at the quintessential Viennese Kaffeehaus, Bräunerhof on Stallburggasse, and order a "Mélange, Buttersemmerl, und zwei Eier im Glas, bitte" (that's Viennese coffee, a breakfast bun, and two eggs) for $14 ( Stroll to an auction at the centuries-old Auktionshaus Dorotheum, where bids are placed on everything from rare stamps to rare cars, and many items are available for browsing through in the adjacent gallery ( End the day with a soak at the art deco bathhouse Amalienbad (, pool $7, sauna $19, kids under 6 free), or watch the sun set over the Danube from the Rhapsody bar at Vienna's riverfront Hilton (

Price check: Hard-to-beat offers include airfare and three nights at a centrally located hotel with breakfast from $959. The trip departs from New York City or Washington, D.C., and you can combine it with destinations like Paris, Prague, or Budapest (, Jan. 4-Mar. 25). In March, when the weather's warming up, Drei Kronen, an art nouveau hotel facing the city's largest outdoor market, provides doubles from $70 a night ( Pension Stadthalle, in a residential neighborhood five subway stops from the city center, has 11 newly renovated doubles from $84 (


Why in 2010: Flying to the other side of the globe usually empties your bank account. But recent steps by several governments to boost transpacific competition has started an air war between Delta, Qantas, United, and Richard Branson's new airline V Australia—and that's good news for Americans who've always wanted to go Down Under. For bookings during early 2010, direct flights between L.A. and Sydney are about 22 percent cheaper than they were a year ago, says Expedia. That's the continuation of a trend, as fare prices to Australia have been sliding gradually for some time. Today's West Coast fares of about $1,100, for example, are significantly lower than the typical $1,700 price tag of summer 2008.

Snap up the bargains through 2010 while they last; prices might climb steeply starting in 2011, spurred by the growth of global business travel as the economy rebounds. In the meantime, hotel rates in Australia are down 30 to 40 percent this year as well, so your flight-and-hotel total should make the trip a relative steal through the first half of 2010.

Main events: January 26 is Australia Day, and celebrations citywide include 10 hours of live entertainment at the Rocks, where colonial-era structures flank a shopping, dining, and gallery-hopping district (, free). Last year's first Crave Sydney international food festival proved such a hit that it'll return in 2010. Among the fun stunts being considered is a 6,000-person breakfast on Sydney Harbour Bridge (, fee for breakfast and other activities not yet announced). The famous Sydney Festival takes place from January 9 to 30 this year; three weeks of free outdoor concerts include a show by musician A.R. Rahman of Slumdog Millionaire fame (

Memorable moment: Take in a 360-degree view of the cityscape by walking across the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunrise. Get water-level views of the city on the 12-minute commuter ferry, departing from Circular Quay ($4.60 each way, Hop off to see Taronga Zoo, where you can see koalas, wallabies, and other native Aussie animals (, adults $36, kids $18). Guided bicycle tours are also popular: Cycle past the city's memorials, historic buildings, and 30-plus notable sites with Bonza Bike Tours (, from $61 via Expedia).

Price check: Round-trip flights to Sydney in February, when days are nearly free of rain and high temperatures average 78 degrees Fahrenheit, recently started at $1,141 from L.A. (Delta), at $1,366 from Chicago (United), and at $1,423 from Atlanta (multiple airlines). Centrally located in the Rocks district, the Australian Heritage Hotel is a 1910s-era property providing B&B-style doubles with antique furnishings beginning at $119 a night ( The best values are often apartment rentals, like those offered by Sinclairs ( and Medina Executive Sydney Central (, which start at $124 a night in early 2010. A tour of the Opera House starts at $25 (, performances from $37).


Why in 2010: Vietnam's leafy, atmospheric capital, Hanoi, celebrates its 1,000th birthday in 2010—that's right, it's a millennial bash—and the city is throwing a huge, yearlong coming-out party. A deep roster of cultural festivities, including flower festivals and art exhibitions (more info at, is set for 2010, while local tour operators like Exotissimo Travel debut English-language tours that explore Hanoi's days of colonial rulers and Communist heroes (, from $45). At the same time, the city is burnishing its reputation as one of Asia's coolest, fastest growing metropolises (its population has doubled since 1990 to reach nearly 6.5 million) with the opening of über-hip places like the year-old, artist-run café Tadioto ( and the three-story Tan My Design (, which showcases Hanoi's top homegrown fashion.

Best of all, 2010 should be a very affordable year for U.S. travelers. The Vietnamese dong has just been devalued by more than 5 percent, and the dollar is stronger than ever against it, according to Bloomberg's data service. Compare this to Japan, where the dollar recently fell to a 14-year low against the yen, or Thailand, where the greenback hasn't fared well in 2009 against the baht.

Main Events: In late October, a contemporary-art festival called Light Gathering (Hoi Tu Anh Sang) will feature ingenious light installations and paintings (Oct. 30–Nov. 1, prices not yet announced). Millennial-themed flower shows, parades, and exhibits are also expected on the streets throughout the year. Tour operators are making events and attractions more accessible to English-speaking travelers. Hanoitourist Travel Company, for example, has launched 10 new full-day tours, which include exploration of Hanoi's famed labyrinthine Old Quarter and trips to outlying, centuries-old villages (, from $50).

Memorable Moment: Tease your palate with a visit to food blog Stickyrice ( Once you hit the city, pull up a plastic stool at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen at 14 Hang Ga Street—the banh cuon, rice pancakes with minced pork and ear mushrooms, are the city's best. Then tackle the Old Quarter and its 36 streets jammed with tube houses (some as narrow as 6.5 feet wide and as much as 229 feet long), traditional Chinese herb shops, and old temples.

Price Check: Round-trip airfare to Hanoi in April (an agreeable, off-peak time to visit) from L.A., Chicago, and New York starts at $706, $824, and $852 respectively. All four Hanoi Elegance Hotel boutique properties are known for their large rooms and great service; doubles start at $45 ( It's worth it to order an airport transfer to your hotel, which costs between $15 and $20, to avoid being overcharged by a taxi driver.

Edited by: Stephen Merrill and Sean O'Neill.

Written by: Erika Jakubassa, Naomi Lindt, Ian Mount, Alex Robertson Textor, Cintra Scott, Brendan Spiegel, Regis St. Louis, and Brad Tuttle.

Research by: Kate Appleton, Beth Collins, Valerie Rains, and JD Rinne.

*Note: This article originally placed San José Del Cabo, Mexico, to the south, instead of to the north, of Cabo San Lucas. We regret the error.

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