UNITED STATES TRAVEL GUIDE
This is a country of road trips and great open skies, where 4 million miles of highways lead past red-rock deserts, below towering mountains and through wheat fields that roll off toward the horizon. We have spent many months visiting all parts of the USA and yet there is so much more drawing us back each time.
The United States can not be defined solely by television and movies. It is large, complex, and diverse, with several distinct regional identities. Due to the vast distances involved, travelling between regions often means crossing through many different landscapes, climates, and even time zones. Such travel can often be time-consuming and expensive but is often very rewarding.
UNITED STATES QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Washington, DC
- Government: Federal Presidential Constitutional Republic
- Currency: US Dollar
- Area: 9,826,675 km²
- Population: 331,002,651 (2020 estimate)
- Electricity: 120V, 60Hz (Type "A" plug)
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UNITED STATES PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 1 January, New Year’s Day
- 3rd Monday in January, Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- 3rd Monday in February, Washington’s Birthday (Presidents’ Day)
- Last Monday in May, Memorial Day
- 4 July, Independence Day
- 1st Monday in September, Labor Day
- 2nd Monday in October, Columbus Day
- 11 November, Veterans Day
- 4th Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day
- 25 December, Christmas
FESTIVALS IN UNITED STATES
BEST TIME TO VISIT UNITED STATES
The United States of America is a huge country with a great variety of climatic conditions. Heading from north to south or from west to east of the country one can face both severe touches of frost and debilitating heat.
- Summer (June - August) - During summer, northern states enjoy warm - even hot - days and cooler mornings and nights, while southern states and tropical areas experience very hot temperatures.
- Fall (September - November) - In the fall, temperatures begin to cool down around the country. This is a welcome season in northern regions, where leaves change to beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange.
- Winter (December - February) Winter is fairly mild in the southern states, while the northern, north-eastern, midwestern, western mountains and Great Plains regions often encounter snow and colder temperatures.
- Spring (March - May) During the spring, temperatures begin to warm up and thunderstorms and rainstorms are common across the country into the summer months.
UNITED STATES WEATHER SYNOPSIS
The United States of America is a huge country with a great variety of climatic conditions. Heading from north to south or from west to east of the country one can face both severe touches of frost and debilitating heat.
Summer: June - August
Fall: September - November
Winter: December - February
During summer, northern states enjoy warm — even hot — days and cooler mornings and nights, while southern states and tropical areas experience very hot temperatures.
In the fall, temperatures begin to cool down around the country. This is a welcome season in northern regions, where leaves change to beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange.
Winter is fairly mild in the southern states, while the northern, northeastern, midwestern, western mountains and Great Plains regions often encounter snow and colder temperatures.
During the spring, temperatures begin to warm up and thunderstorms and rainstorms are common across the country into the summer months.
UNITED STATES TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN UNITED STATES
The snow sports season in The United States can start as early as November and while some resorts close in March, others stay open all the way until July! There are plenty of great skiing and snowboarding opportunities across the country, so just check their seasons before you go.
HIKING & CYCLING IN UNITED STATES
You should be able to find a hiking route somewhere in The United States throughout the year and the best time will depend on the particular route. Overall, outdoor activities are more pleasant from May to September, although July and August can get hot in some areas.
BEACH OPTIONS IN UNITED STATES
The weather should be good enough to enjoy the beautiful beaches of The United States from May to October, particularly in sunny California. The most popular and warmest months are July and August.
SURFING IN UNITED STATES
California is a year-round surfing destination in The United States, with the best time for surfing being during the winter months. Hawaii's peak surf season with large swell is from November to March, while from March to May you can experience great waves and fewer crowds.
KITESURF IN UNITED STATES
You can kite and windsurf throughout the year somewhere in The United States. Head to the California Coast or Cape Hatteras (East coast) from April to October, or to Hawaii from November through March. The best months to kite are May to October and some of the most popular kitesurfing spots are Maui and Oahu in Hawaii; Waddell Creek, Scott Creek, Sherman Island and San Francisco in California; Miami in Florida; South Padre Island in Texas; Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and Hood River in Oregon.
For more details on kite surfing in United States expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN UNITED STATES
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
UNITED STATES TRAVEL COSTS
The USA offers the ultimate luxury for travellers seeking respite from their frenetic, cramped lives with plenty of untouched, open spaces. But there is a price to be paid for this vastness as transportation is not always convenient and sometimes not available at all. However, with some thought and advance planning, it is possible to get around the USA easily and cheaply.
While the US can be a pricey place to visit, there are many ways frugal travellers can save some dollars.
- Eat your big meal at lunchtime, when many restaurants offer lunch specials and main courses are much better value for money.
- Many museums have one or more free periods in which to visit (Thursday evening or Sunday morning, for instance).
- Cheaper rental cars often lie just outside of major city centers and away from the airport.
- Booking online and well ahead of time for buses and trains will get you much lower prices than buying tickets on the spot.
UNITED STATES TRAVEL TIPS
A good old-fashioned road-trip is hard to beat if you want to experience the best of what the USA has to offer. Most travellers will be limited to (at best) a 6 month travel window per year - which never be enough to get everywhere in one trip. You should decide on a region and consider the constraints of time and distance to plan your trip.
- Make an effort to meet the locals. Americans are generally quite friendly, and often happy to share insight into their city.
- If you’re driving, get off the interstates and take the back roads. Some of the best scenery lies on winding country lanes.
- Plan carefully to avoid the worst of the crowds. Visit resort areas, popular restaurants and top sights on weekdays.
- Take photographic ID out to bars; many venues have a policy to check ID for anyone buying alcohol, even if you’re obviously over 21. The same often apply when you use a credit card at a store.
- Keep in mind that laws and attitudes vary considerably from state to state.
- Tipping in the US is not optional; only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL PASS
If you do plan a road-trip and want to take in some of the many national parks and recreational areas you MUST get a America the Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites and is valid for a full year! Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). Children age 15 or under are admitted free. Current price for the annual pass is US$80 - find more details on the National Park Service website.
- Air travel can be costly but efficient - shop around for a cheap ticket. Advance booking, not taking direct flights, and not flying during peak hours (7 am to 7 pm) offer savings. The domestic air system is extensive and reliable, with dozens of competing airlines, hundreds of airports and thousands of flights daily. Flying is usually more expensive than traveling by bus, train or car, but it’s the way to go when you’re in a hurry.
- Though the railway used to be a major player in the USA's past, today domestic passenger rail services have shrunk drastically. Compared with other modes of travel, trains are rarely the quickest, cheapest, timeliest or most convenient option, but they turn the journey into a relaxing, social and scenic all-American experience. Amtrak has several long-distance lines traversing the nation east to west, and even more running north to south. These connect all of America’s biggest cities and many of its smaller ones. Long-distance services (on named trains) mostly operate daily on these routes, but some run only three to five days per week. See Amtrak’s website for detailed route maps. Commuter trains can often be a great option as they provide faster, more frequent services on shorter routes. For example getting from Boston to NY.
- Renting a car and driving around is one of the best ways to get around the USA - if you have time. But if you want to explore rural America and its wide-open spaces, a car is essential. Roads are good and clearly marked but negotiating city traffic during rush hour can be painful. There are plenty of car-rental agencies across the country and for the best deal, you should book in advance.
- Bus services are generally well-organized, cheaper than trains and cover most parts of the country. To save money, travel by bus, particularly between major towns and cities. Middle-class Americans prefer to fly or drive, but buses let you see the countryside and meet folks along the way. As a rule, buses are reliable, cleanish and comfortable, with air-conditioning, barely reclining seats, lavatories and no smoking. We would recommend Megabus or BoltBus.
- Local transportation options are endless and you should avail yourself of the details of a specific destinations. Some large cities has subway or light-rail systems which can be useful if you don't stray too far from stations. For shorter hops, ride-sharing services like Uber are ubiquitous.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF UNITED STATES
Due to the vast size of the US, this page can hardly do justice to provide you with every detail of must see and must do's. We'll keep it relatively simple and give our list of USA Top 25.
NEW YORK CITY
Home to artists, wall street moguls and immigrants from every corner of the globe, New York City is constantly reinventing itself. It remains one of the world centers of fashion, theatre, food, music, publishing, advertising and finance. A staggering number of museums, parks and ethnic neighbourhoods are scattered through the five boroughs. Do as every New Yorker does: hit the streets. Every block reflects the character and history of this dizzying kaleidoscope, and on even a short walk you can cross continents.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Geological wonders abound - from geysers and fluorescent hot springs to fumaroles and bubbling mud pots. Abundant wildlife - grizzlies, black bears, wolf packs, elk, bison and moose, roaming across some 3500 sq miles of wilderness. Pitch a tent in Yellowstone’s own Grand Canyon, watch wildlife in Lamar Valley, admire the Upper and Lower Falls, wait for Old Faithful to blow and hike through the primeval, fuming landscape for a real taste of what is truly the Wild West.
Amid the growth, fog and clatter of old-fashioned trams, the diverse neighbourhoods of San Francisco invite long days of wandering, with great indie shops, fabulous restaurants and bohemian nightlife. Highlights include a trip to Alcatraz, strolling across the Golden Gate and dining inside the Ferry Building. And you must take at least one ride on the trolley.
Nearly 2 miles long and lined with monuments and marble buildings, the National Mall is the epicentre of Washington, DC’s political and cultural life. In the summer, music and food festivals are staged here, while year-round visitors wander the halls of America’s finest museums lining the green. For exploring American history, there’s no better place to ruminate, whether tracing your hand along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or ascending the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Acadia National Park is where the mountains meet the sea. Miles of rocky coastline and even more miles of hiking and biking trails make this wonderland Maine’s most popular destination, and deservedly so. The high point (literally) is Cadillac Mountain, a 1530ft peak that can be accessed by foot, bike or vehicle. Early risers can catch the country’s first sunrise from this celebrated summit. Later in the day, cool off with a dip in Echo Lake or take tea and popovers overlooking Jordan Pond.
Caribbean-colonial architecture, Creole cuisine and a jubilant air of celebration seem more alluring than ever in the Big Easy. Nights are spent catching Dixieland jazz, blues and rock amid bouncing live-music joints, and the city’s riotous annual festivals (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest) are famous the world over. ‘Nola’, as the city is known, also celebrates its myriad culinary influences. Feast on lip-smacking jambalaya, soft-shelled crab and Louisiana cochon (pulled pork) before hitting the bar scene on Frenchman St.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
The sheer immensity of the canyon is what grabs you at first - a 2-billion-year-old rip across the landscape that reveals the earth’s geological secrets with commanding authority. But it’s Mother Nature’s artistic touches, from sun-dappled ridges and crimson buttes to lush oases and a ribbon-like river, that hold your attention and demand your return. To explore the canyon, take your pick of adventures: hiking, biking, rafting or mule riding. Or simply grab a seat along the Rim Trail and watch the earth change colours before you.
A perpetual influx of dreamers, go-getters and hustlers gives this sprawling coastal city an energetic buzz. Learn the tricks of movie-making during a studio tour. Bliss out to acoustically perfect symphony sounds in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Wander gardens and galleries at the hilltop Getty Museum. Enjoy perfect beaches for that LA sun-kissed look.
The Windy City will blow you away with its architecture, lakefront beaches, top-notch dining scene and world-class museums. But its true mojo is its blend of high culture and earthy pleasures. Is there another metropolis that dresses its Picasso sculpture in local sports-team gear? Where the demand for hot dogs equals the demand for North America’s top restaurants? Winters are brutal, but come summer, Chicago fetes the warm days with food and music festivals that make fine use of its waterfront.
PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
A drive along America’s western coastline is road-tripping at its finest. In California, Hwy 1, also called the Pacific Coast Highway, Hwy 101 and I-5 pass sea cliffs, idiosyncratic beach towns and a few major cities: laid-back San Diego, rocker LA and beatnik San Francisco. North of the redwoods, Hwy 101 swoops into Oregon for windswept capes, rocky tide pools and Ecola State Park. Cross the Columbia River into Washington for the wet-and-wild Olympic National Park.
Santa Fe is an old city with a young soul. Art lovers have flocked to Canyon Rd and the downtown galleries for years, but openings in the Railyard Arts District and Midtown have added a vibrant edge. Art and history partner up in style within the city’s museums, and the food and shopping are first-rate. With that turquoise sky as a backdrop, the experience is darn near sublime. Artists also converge in the adobe city of Taos, where the vibe is quirkier, inhabited by ski bums and sustainable-architecture-loving Earthshippers.
The Everglades unnerve. They don’t reach majestically skyward or fill your heart with the aching beauty of a glacier-carved valley. They ooze, flat and watery, a river of grass mottled by islands of trees, cypress domes and mangroves. To properly explore the Everglades – and to meet the prehistoric residents, like the snaggle-toothed crocodile – you must leave the safety of land. Push a canoe off a muddy bank, tamp down your fear, and explore the waterways on the Everglades’ own, unforgettable terms.
Philly is often overlooked in the pantheon of great American cities, which is a real shame. It’s a beautiful place, its streets dotted with gracious squares linked by cobbled alleys. As the ‘birthplace of American government’ – where the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – history abounds (the Liberty Bell! Ben Franklin’s office!). But it’s not all about the past: the dining scene in Philly has heated up way beyond the famed cheesesteak sandwich. A democratic selection of restaurants lurks on every corner, and many are reasonably priced.
CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY
The Golden State is home to more than 100 wine regions. The rolling vineyards of Napa, Sonoma and the Russian River Valley lure travellers north from San Francisco. Sample a world-class cabernet in Napa, enjoy a picnic in laid-back Sonoma, or cap off an outdoor adventure with a pinot noir near the Russian River.
Although the original flower children may now have grandkids of their own, their free-spirited ethos lives on in the indie-loving towns of this picturesque region in upstate New York. In recent years there’s been an influx of creative farm-to-table restaurants, artisan breweries and distilleries, and a growing array of arts collectives and high-profile concert venues. This beautiful region also happens to be prime leaf-peeping territory during the fall, a hiker’s paradise in the spring and summer, and an ample playground for winter sports.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Meander through wildflower-strewn meadows in valleys carved by rivers and glaciers, whose hard, endless work makes everything look simply colossal here. Thunderous waterfalls tumble over sheer cliffs, ant-sized climbers scale the enormous granite domes of El Cap and Half Dome, while hikers walk beneath ancient groves of giant sequoias, the planet’s biggest trees. Even the subalpine meadows of Tuolumne are magnificently vast. For the most sublime views, perch at Glacier Point on a full-moon night or drive the high country’s dizzying Tioga Rd in summer.
A cutting-edge Pacific Rim city with an uncanny habit of turning locally hatched ideas into global brands, Seattle has earned its place among the ‘great’ US metropolises with a world-renowned music scene, a mercurial coffee culture and a penchant for innovation and political progressiveness. But, while Seattle’s trendsetters rush to unearth the next big thing, city traditionalists guard its soul with distinct urban neighbourhoods, a homegrown food culture and what is arguably the nation’s finest public market, Pike Place.
The Southwest is home to an array of Native American sites. To learn about America’s earliest inhabitants, climb into the ancient clifftop homes of Ancestral Puebloans at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. For living cultures, visit the modern-day Pueblo of Taos, or Arizona’s Navajo and Hopi Nations. As you’ll discover here and in regional museums, many designs have religious significance.
Today’s Detroit has a contagious, freewheeling energy. Downtown, seek out restored art deco skyscrapers, whimsical public parks and edgy street art, as well as sports venues for all of the city’s major teams. Motor City’s automotive past comes to life at places such as the Packard Plant, the nearby Henry Ford Museum and the River Rouge Plant, the sounds of Motown and jazz ring from historic venues, and restaurants ranging from vegan soul diners to Polish bakeries showcase the city’s diverse heritage.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Sadly the main attractions at Glacier National Park are melting away. There were 150 glaciers in the area in 1850; today there are 25. But even without the giant ice sheets, Montana’s sprawling national park is worthy of an in-depth visit. Road warriors can manoeuvre the thrilling 50-mile-long Going-to-the-Sun Road; wildlife-watchers can scan for elk, wolves and grizzlies; and hikers have 700 miles of trails, trees and flora – including mosses, mushrooms and wildflowers – to explore.
Miami seems to have it all. Beyond the stunning beaches and Art Deco Historic District, there’s culture at every turn. No other US city blends the attitude of North America with the Latin energy of South America and the rhythm of the Caribbean. Throw in African American heritage, a gastronomic edge, pounding nightlife, a skyline plucked from a patrician’s dream and miles of gorgeous sand, and you’ve got yourself the Magic City.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Named for the heather-coloured mist that hangs over the peaks, the Smokies are part of the most visited national park in the US. The pocket of deep Appalachian woods is split between Tennessee and North Carolina, protecting thickly forested ridges where black bears, white-tailed deer, antlered elk, wild turkeys and more than 1600 kinds of flowers find sanctuary. Nearly 10 million people a year come to hike, camp, ride horses, cycle, raft and fly-fish, though it’s easy to lose the crowds if you’re willing to walk or paddle.
Beneath the neon lights of the Strip, this city puts on a dazzling show: dancing fountains, a spewing volcano, its Eiffel Tower. Beneath it all is the seductive charm of the casino, where the fresh-pumped air and bright colours share one goal: separating you from your money. Step away if you can for fine restaurants, Cirque du Soleil performances, the Slotzilla zipline and the Mob Museum.
Launched in 1926 and known as the Mother Road, this ribbon of concrete running from Chicago to Los Angeles was the USA’s original road trip, and it still offers classic, time-warped touring. Motor along past 2000 miles of vintage Americana, stopping to dig into thick slabs of pie in small-town diners and to snap photos of roadside attractions such as the Snow Cap Drive-In, the Wigwam Motel, the neon signs of Tucumcari, the begging burros of Oatman, AZ, and the Gemini Giant, a sky-high fiberglass spaceman.
MICHIGAN GOLD COAST
Michigan’s 300-mile western shoreline is a charming collection of beaches, dunes, wineries, orchards and inn-filled towns, all set against the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan. Dutch-inspired Holland is a kitschy highlight, full of windmills, blue-and-white pottery and spring tulips. Meanwhile, in Harbor Country towns such as Harbert and Sawyer, ‘Green Acres’ meets Greenwich Village for a bohemian farm-and-arts blend of local antique shops, galleries, boutiques, bakeries and restaurants.
WHAT TO EAT IN UNITED STATES
The great variety found in American cuisine can be traced to the local specialities of each region, from the seafood of the North Atlantic to the fertile Midwestern farmlands and the vast Western ranch lands. It's hard to generalise but broadly regional specialities are grouped as follow:
New England: Clambakes & Lobster Boils
Mid-Atlantic: Crab Cakes & Cheesesteaks
Southern USA: BBQ, Biscuits & Gumbo
Great Plains & Great Lakes: Burgers, Bacon & Beer
The Southwest: Chili, Steak & Salsa
California: Farm-to-Table & Taquerias
Pacific Northwest: Salmon & Coffee Culture
Hawaii: Island Style
FOR CHEAP TREATS TRY:
- Food trucks - The variety of offerings is staggering in towns of all sizes.
- Tacos - A favourite all across the US. Some of the best are served from street carts and food trucks.
- Green chili - A Rockies classic, best when served atop a burger.
- Doughnuts - Look for gourmet varieties (pistachio, hibiscus, lemon ginger).
- Fried chicken - With famed spots in the South, including Nashville’s hot chicken culture and Willie Mae’s in New Orleans.
- Frozen custard - Nothing else quite hits the spot on a hot day, especially if it’s from Ted Drewes in St Louis.
- Fried clams - A cheap and filling snack available all along the eastern seaboard.
- Beignets- Fried dough topped with powdered sugar is a must-have when visiting New Orleans.
- Half smokes - A bigger, spicier version of the hot dog, this is a DC specialty.
LGBTQ IN UNITED STATES
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people in the United States enjoy many of the same rights as non-LGBT people. Civil rights campaigning in support of marriage without distinction as to sex or sexual orientation began in the 1970s. In the United States, the availability of legally-recognised same-sex marriage expanded from one state in 2004 to all fifty states in 2015
Although predominantly accepted, LGBTQ people may still face some legal and social challenges in the United States, particularly in rural areas and states with large conservative populations, such as the Deep South and much of the Midwest. There are plenty of annual Gay Pride Parades across the United States, with the biggest five taking place in New York, California, Colorado, Florida and Washington DC.
WHERE TO STAY IN UNITED STATES
- B&Bs and Inns - These vary from small, comfy houses with shared baths (least expensive) to romantic, antique-filled historic homes with private baths (most expensive). Reservations are essential. Call ahead to confirm policies (ie minimum stay, kids, pets, smoking) and bathroom arrangements.
- Camping - Camping is usually limited to 14 days and can be reserved up to six months in advance. Campsites at national and state parks typically come in three types: primitive (free to $10 per night, no facilities); basic ($10 to $20, and include toilets, drinking water, firepits and picnic tables); and developed ($20 to $50, come with more amenities such as showers, barbecue grills, recreational vehicle (RV) sites with hook-ups etc).
- Hostels - Most hostels have gender-segregated dorms, a few private rooms, shared baths and a communal kitchen. Overnight fees for dorm beds range from $25 to $45 (though in NYC, a dorm bed can cost upward of $75).
- Hotels - Hotels in all categories typically include cable TV, in-room wi-fi, private baths and a simple continental breakfast. Many midrange properties provide minibars, microwaves, hair dryers and swimming pools, while top-end hotels add concierge services, fitness and business centers, spas, restaurants and bars.
- Motels - Distinguishable from hotels by having rooms that open onto a parking lot, motels tend to cluster around interstate exits and along main routes into town. Although most motel rooms won’t win any style awards, they can be clean and comfortable and offer good value. Ask to see a room first if you’re unsure.
- Resorts - Found in states like Florida and Arizona, resort facilities can include all manner of fitness and sports options, including pools and spas, as well as other amenities such as restaurants, bars, and so on. Many also have on-site babysitting services. However, some also tack an extra ‘resort fee’ onto rates, so always ask.
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