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1. Read.

Start reading and don’t stop.

Read all the “greats,” but don’t skip the more obscure writers. Read magazines. Get yourself a library card if you don’t have one, and if you can’t do that, check Google Books and Google Magazines.

The idea isn’t to imitate, but to simply know what — what genres, what styles, what writers — came before you, as well as who your contemporaries are.

2. Redefine the genre of travel writing.

“Travel writing” includes hotel reviews and destination guides, published in guidebooks and in glossy travel magazines. But travel writing’s more than service pieces.

Check out this genre-busting, long-format narrative by Porter Fox. Or this blog post by multi-genre writer Elizabeth Eslami, which I’d categorize as “place-based writing.”

In a way, all movement and all settling is travel, and so the stories we tell about these experiences are “travel writing” in the broadest sense of the word. Even if some editors don’t see it that way.

3. Start a blog.

In the not-so-distant past, a writer had to have a decent portfolio of publication credits to be considered a “travel writer,” and certainly to be published in a glossy mag.

Not so anymore.

Thousands of writers have published their writing primarily or exclusively on their blogs. Some have gotten book deals. Some have gotten print gigs. Some get offers of free travel. And some get nothing more than the recognition that their writing means something to a random reader who stumbled across their blog doing a Google search.

Not sure how to get started? Check out Matador’s stockpile of blogging tips.

4. Develop your online presence.

Use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to connect with other writers, editors, and readers.

5. Build a network, online and off.

Start your blog, set up a Facebook and Twitter account, but make sure you get offline, too. Stories and relationships don’t develop best through a screen. That only happens at ground level.

MatadorU hosts frequent workshops and events around the world.

6. Travel. But not just to “exotic” places.

You’ve got a 9-5′er. You’ve got kids. You’ve got debt. You’ve got no money. You’ve got an expired passport.

What you’ve got are excuses. A walk beyond your front door is travel. The only thing you need for a trip is curiosity.

7. Look for stories everywhere.

Often, the most interesting stories aren’t waiting in some far-flung place for you to come along and unearth them. Instead, they’re right beside you, at ground level.

8. Avoid cliches.

If you’re not sure what cliches we’re talking about, you need to go back to step 1 (READ). You can also consult our articles, 10 words and phrases we never want to see in travel writing again and 5 more words we never want to see in travel writing again.

How many hidden gems and best kept secrets can there be in the world, anyway?

9. Learn when to break the writing rules you’ve been taught.

One of the challenges new travel writers often confront is unlearning rules of narrative they were taught in school: “Always write in the third person.” “Every paragraph must have three to five sentences.” “Every story must have an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.”

It’s not narrative that’s inflexible; it’s the writer. Don’t be afraid to play with forms or break rules.

10. Commit to the craft.

Tip #9 notwithstanding, there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken. Spelling and punctuation should be solid if you intend to submit your writing for publication, whether online or in print. Your syntax and word usage should be on point. Commit to the craft of writing. Simply telling a good story isn’t enough.

11. Get a writing partner.

Writing has some pretty solitary moments, and reviewing your work with a writing partner (especially if you have problems with spelling, grammar, etc.) can be invaluable. Participating in a writers’ group can be even more useful; you’ll have a support network of writers who can offer constructive feedback.

12. Prepare yourself for rejection.

Every writer experiences rejection. The sooner you learn how to handle it and move on, the happier and more successful you’ll be as a travel writer.

13. Be professional.

Learn how to pitch and query. Don’t make your problems an editor’s problems.

14. Invest in yourself.

If you want to pursue travel writing as a profession, consider making some investments in your professional development. The travel writing, travel photography, and travel filmmaking programs of MatadorU teach you the craft and business of this line of work.

15. Develop other relevant skills.

Assignments often go to writers who also have other relevant skills, especially in photography. If you can offer an editor a complete package of writing and photos, you’ll save him/her lots of time.

16. Use prompts if you have writers’ block.

MatadorU’s Dean of Education, Joshua Johnson, rounded up three websites that are full of prompts to get your pen moving again.

17. Don’t tell the reader how to feel or what to think.

Way too much travel writing is characterized by the author/narrator telling the reader how to feel or what to think. The ways in which we experience “the exotic” and treat it as precious and the ways, in particular, we see people, dramatically shape the ways we talk about them and the impressions our interpretations leave on the reader.

18. But don’t think you’re objective, either.

There’s no such thing as objectivity.

19. Practice “10 Possibilities.”

In order to test your own ways of seeing and your default interpretations, start practicing a game a friend of mine calls “10 Possibilities.” For every experience you’re inclined to classify as “strange,” “exotic,” “amazing,” or otherwise otherworldly, challenge yourself to come up with 10 possibilities that could explain why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.

20. Write.

It’s obvious enough, I suppose, but what distinguishes an “aspiring writer” from a “writer” is that the latter actually…writes. At Matador, we’ve taken to calling this “ass-to-chair” time.

21. Learn how to use an anecdote.

So much beginning travel writing is what I call “This is what I did on my summer vacation” essays: chronologically linear stories that detail every single activity, meal, and person the writer has encountered in his or her travels. 98% of that material isn’t relevant.

Learn how to use anecdotes and scenes in your storytelling.

22. Accept the fact that luck, timing, circumstance, and knowing people often play a big role in a writer’s life.

Don’t underestimate the ‘right place, right time’ scenario. While you might not have much control over that, you do have control over being ready, willing, and able to take advantage of any opportunities that come your way.
- Matador Managing Editor Carlo Alcos

In my own work, and among many of my freelance travel writing colleagues, luck, timing, circumstance, and knowing people have played as important a role as being a good writer.

* This post was originally published on January 12, 2011.

* Learn more about how to be a travel writer — check out the MatadorU Travel Writing course.



About The Author

Julie Schwietert

Julie Schwietert Collazo is a writer, editor, researcher, and translator currently in New York, formerly of Mexico City and San Juan.

  • Morgan

    This is exactly what I needed today. Thanks for reminding me of a few important things.

    • Julie

      You’re welcome; glad it’s useful.

  • Miranda

    Great series of tips. I particularly love points #2 and 6 – “A walk beyond your front door is travel”. Couldn’t agree more :)

    • Julie

      Thanks, Miranda- you’re especially good at #2. ;)

  • Jeremy Head

    Your title is correct. Great advice for becoming a travel writer. But making it pay? Earning a proper living? There’s little here about the commerical realities of this career path and you do people a disservice by not making clear that it’s very very hard to make money as a travel writer. And it’s not going to get easier in my opinion. Writing, inspiration and all that stuff is all well and good but frankly a successful travel writer is first and foremost a great sales person. It’s about finding appropriate ideas for the site or publication you are targetting and selling them. If you can’t do that… forget it.

    • Julie


      Points taken, but my intention here is to provide guidance for people who are at the very beginning stages of travel writing- they’re not really at the point of pitching and publishing yet, much less turning travel writing into a full-time career (if any of us do that at all, really).

      I’m probably one of the most realistic and pragmatic writers willing to talk about the challenges of becoming a travel writer– just ask my students in MatadorU. I’m a big proponent of diversifying your income stream (for many reasons, not just to stay solvent) and an equally big proponent of diversifying your skill sets and interests and deploying them in your writing (hence #2– I think some of the best “travel writing” isn’t in travel magazines, and the sooner a writer figures that out, then the sooner he/she will find work published).

      I don’t necessarily share your opinion that it’s hard and getting harder to be in this field, but I do agree that you have to be as skilled in business as in writing. But if you’re craft isn’t on game, then there’s no point in focusing on the business side of this profession. I want to see craft first. Then we’ll get to business.

      You’ve given me an idea for the follow-up article to this one, though. :)

      • Jeremy Head

        Hi Julie
        I’d say then that your title is a bit misleading. Maybe it should be called ‘how to improve your travel writing’. I think ‘How to be a travel writer (seriously)’ implies that the post is about how to make it, how to do it as a job.
        Question for you. What pays more of your rent, your travel writing or your work on the travel writing program? I quite freelancing full time several years back and I am now travel editor for a web and social media company 4 days a week. I still do some freelance stuff – in particular guidebooks, but I had to take a long hard look at where my career as a freelance was going and accept that realistically I would never earn more that about £25,000 a year working very hard indeed. Enough to get by as a keen 20-something, but not enough as an older 30-something with a wife and new baby. And, I reckon if anything my earnings would have decreased rather than increased as I got older. More and more people seem to want to do this ‘dream job’ and sites like Matador feed the dream. I think it’s doing them a huge disservice to do that (and presumably to get people to pay for participation in travel writing programs etc) without balancing this with some serious reality-check information too.
        And maybe you do? I don’t know.
        Best wishes

        • Jeremy Head

          PS: That’s not to say that there isn’t some great information and advice in your post by the way…. There is – it’s a good post.

          • Julie


            I think the craft piece of becoming a travel writer is a bit more straightforward than the how-to-make-a-living piece, mainly because there are so many different forms making travel writing a career can take and because there are so many different forms of travel writing itself.

            You keep belaboring your point, but you haven’t said anything about how *you* make this profession work for you or why you want to warn people about the “realities” of the profession. I do so pretty frequently on my personal writing/editing blog:, so anyone interested in a pretty transparent look at the travel writing life is welcome to stop by there.

        • Julie


          I’m happy to answer your questions, and I definitely empathize with you. I’m 33, am the main source of income in my family, and we have a 15 month old daughter, so I’m by no means naive to the financial challenges of being a writer… travel writer or otherwise.

          My work for Matador and my work as a freelance writer (keep in mind that I don’t just do “travel” writing) produce about the same amount of income each month, give or take since freelance income is never really consistent from one month to the next. It’s enough to pay my bills, not enough to live frivolously or get rich. But like I said, what’s more important to me, when I compare my life now to my life when I had a job as an assistant director of a social service agency and received a paycheck every two weeks is that now I have way more control over my schedule. For me, these benefits aren’t something I take for granted. I don’t have to drop my daughter off at a daycare. I don’t have to try to give attention to my family for just a couple hours after a long day at the office. And I don’t have to ask for permission to go on vacation. This flexibility allows me to do things besides write, which appeals to me not just because I can diversify my income stream, but because I have lots of different interests and I don’t want to do the same thing all the time. For a couple weeks each year I lead tours for Smithsonian’s Student Journeys program. I edit books. I translate documentaries from Spanish into English. So I suppose I’m not looking solely at the financials as the overall payoff.

          • Jeremy Head

            Hi Julie
            Thanks for sharing… interesting.
            Like I say, I feel that posts like this one, whilst interesting and well written set an expectation for aspirational travel writers that is way too high. And I don’t accept completely your point that this post is more for those just starting out and not about earning a full time living from travel writing… points 13 and 14 in particular.

  • joshywashington

    Ass to chair ratio must be high indeed, *shifts in office chair, sips cold coffee.

    • JoAnna

      Permission granted to warm up your coffee. No one should have to write with a cup of stale caffeine.

  • JoAnna

    Great piece for new writers … and a good reminder for those who, in some form or fashion, already are.

    I also wanted to say that I absolutely love the picture of you writing. My husband has amassed an impressive collection of me doing the same thing, and it’s not until we get home from wherever we were and start uploading pictures that I realize he’s caught me writing (working) anywhere and everywhere! It’s definitely a full-time job!

    • Julie


      Agreed- hot coffee’s a must.
      And hey, you’ve given me a good idea for a photo essay. :)

      How was your writer meet-up in LV?

      • JoAnna

        Meet-up was very, very good … and hopefully the first of many. We’re mobilizing the talents, skills and connections of both bloggers and those who work in social media in our city in order to support and promote each others work for the benefit of everyone.

        • Julie

          That’s great, JoAnna!

  • Alyssa

    ….and last but not least, memorize the word, “writer” as your response when anyone–family, friends, strangers–asks what you do for a living. Whether or not that’s how you pay your bills right now.

    • Julie

      Good one!

    • Julie


      Important! And this: Be prepared to explain to immigration officials what you write about (I’ve been asked this on multiple occasions).

  • Angela

    Love it. These tips are good not only for new writers, but for everyone. It’s always good to keep them in mind, they provide the right inspiration when most needed!

    • Julie

      Thanks, Angela. Hope you’re well!

  • Spencer Spellman

    This is money. Great for aspiring writers. I like this:
    “The sooner you learn how to handle rejection and move on, the happier and more successful you’ll be as a writer.”

    I’ve made it a habit that when I get rejected, to immediately pitch something elsewhere. The longer I let it sit and don’t move, the more I let it affect me. People, you got to move on. Also, just because someone rejects you, doesn’t mean they don’t like it. I’ve been rejected because of timing, and then they’ve come back months later.

    • Julie


      Not that *I* have any experience with rejection…. ;)

  • Cailin

    Awesome tips Julie! :)

  • Norbert

    This is a really good piece. I think this is a well rounded picture of what you need to know and do to become a travel writer. Definitely something every aspiring writers should read, and even well established writers to refresh several basic points.

    I love so many points here. #2 & 9 are points I want to play more and not be afraid to experiment with. #6 is a must! Even a walk around the neighborhood can be good material to deliver a story. Agree with #14, my investment in MatadorU has been one of the best things I’ve done towards my travel writing. And #15, like in the entertainment industry, a triple-threat is usually better (and more marketable) than a double-treath.

    Thank you so much for the snapshot and mention. It is greatly appreciated, as always! :)

  • Paul

    It’s funny how many people nowadays want to become “travel writers ” even if they’ve never traveled outside their own country ( or even their own state).

    Majority of “real ” travel writers became travelers first and writers second. They wrote their books, articles and blog posts not because they wanted to get paid, but because they wanted to share their travel experience and knowledge with anybody who was willing to listen to them.

    If your only goal to become a travel writer is to make money ( or get free travel ), you might as well write about something that actually “pays” …

    • Satu

      Paul – I sort of agree, although I was a writer before I started travelling… but I’d say you’ll have to be passionate about both, writing and travelling.

  • darmabum

    Yeah, Great reminders. As for reading, I’ve become a big fan, not only of reading travel literature, but in tracing the roots of a particular writer back to their source(s), as a way of not only reading more, but in tracing the evolution of someone I admire. I’m a BIG Bruce Chatwin fan, have been for over twenty years, and have traced his writing lineage back over a hundred years, and in doing so, have found some classics I never would have found otherwise.

    As for the “realities” of travel writing, it’s fiscal possibilities: personally, I write because I have to, not (necessarily) because I want to “make a living” at it. Should being able to make a living at it come with what I write, so be it; in the mean time, I write because I must, travel for the same reason . . . I have been “paid” in so many ways having nothing to do with money.

    • Julie


      Love your idea of tracing writers back.If I were to write a piece about the philosophical or theoretical aspects of being a travel writer, I’d include that, as well as this: Looking for narratives written/spoken/otherwise recorded by the people who have traditionally been *subjects* of travel writing. For so long, travel writing has been (and in many ways remains) an imperialist, colonialist enterprise in which “the other” has been treated as a subject for analysis and observation rather than an active creator of story himself or herself. I’d like to help restore those hidden/overlooked narratives.

  • darmabum

    Good points, Julie, which brings to mind “why” (one of the why’s) I like to trace a writer’s lineage: it gives me an idea/ideas of what’s been done, so as not to repeat the past. In that way new ways or looking at the world – such as yours – can be uncovered.

  • Kelsey

    Where were you when I was learning these the hard way? Darn, could’ve used this article 10 years ago. I’ll definitely point budding travel writers to this.

    Nice work. Especially fond of breaking the rules.

  • Cara

    Awesome article, Julie – great reminder of the support you gave me as a MatadorU student!

    All the best to you…

  • Jim

    Agree with breaking rules. Where would we be if we didn’t?
    And good to see the comment in Item 2 “Even if editors don’t see it that way”.
    Glad to see editors are around that can accept when rules are broken we’re trying to expand the genre…even if not too succesfully.
    Bookmarked for future reference.
    Congrats Julie!

  • Nancy Harder

    Terrific piece, Julie! Amen to #6. I’m going to try #19. And I can definitely vouch for #14!

  • Horst Goebel

    Get new ideas and travel well, that you the spirit of success can tell…
    Does anyone hear of Karl May ?? He went to jail for his nice travel storys,but
    this was a long time ago… Horst

  • Mary

    I like the last part of #6…”The only thing you need for a trip is curiosity”. Always leave the house with a sense of curiosity. :) Even getting lost can be a great experience if you have a sense of curiosity.

    Paul – I’m not sure why an individual would have to travel out of their own country to be a travel writer. For example, the United States is a big place, and provides lots of variety for travelers and travel writers. I follow many bloggers and tweeps that focus on specific countries.

  • Sarah Irving

    Great piece, Julie. Implicit in some of this but which I’d stress more strongly is the need to put yourself out there as a writer. Too many people who’ve asked me about making a living as a writer go all Victorian-virgin about the idea that if they want to make a living writing, they are selling their work as a product and unless they are high-profile enough to have an agent, they have to be their own marketing dept. Yes, it can feel mucky and no, you don’t have to totally compromise yourself – there are ways to balance your ethics and creativity with your need to pay the bills. But there are hundreds if not thousands of competitors for every travel writer and even if you’re posting works of glowing genius on your blog somewhere, very few busy editors are ever going to find it – they’re going to buy the pitch that lands in their inbox with a convincing portfolio and resume (sorry that last should have an accent but I have no idea how to do them online ;-P).
    And it’s also worth remembering that a lot of stuff that comes under the heading of travel writing isn’t particularly creative to do – working on guidebooks, for instance, involves a lot more fitting the smallest possible number of words into some boring formatting than it does waxing lyrical about the exotic destinations you are covering. I’m in the middle of completing a manuscript for the Bradt series and that has involved a certain amount of figuring out formatting systems; if Thomas Kohnstamm’s ‘Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?’ is anything to go by Lonely Planet’s is even more complex and technical. Bruce Chatwin it ain’t! But if it’s really what you want to do with your life and you’re realistic about it, writing for a living – travel or otherwise – can be the best thing ever!

    • David Miller

      thanks for commenting sarah.

      for the record, throughout Matador, from our network to BETA to Glimpse, the ‘convincing portfolio and resume’ counts for almost nothing.

      we go off the writing and story and pitch itself.

  • Marc Latham

    Thanks Julie, good tips.

  • Liv

    Hi Julie
    I love your reminder that a walk outside your own front door is travel. It can be easy to overlook the things you see everyday.

  • katie


    How long do you think one needs to be in a particular place to really “know” it? I’m sick of people spending 2 weeks in Paris and 1 week in Lyon, and then saying they’ “know” the country and actually find jobs with said experience! I’m curious as to your opinion.

    I never aspire to be a travel writer myself, but I do have some pretty good off-the-beaten-path stories to tell. I’m never going to be a travel book author, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to write! On the flip side, I think I have some pretty interesting things to say, but my stories never occur in the well-traveled places (we’re talking remote tribes and such!), so I prefer sites like or that seem to allow more unique storytelling.

    Thanks for the article anyway, because it’s always good to be reminded of what’s already out there and overdone!


  • cleo louise

     tell me what you think!

  • Traveling Ted

    Good ideas and suggestions.  I especially like the development of online presence, but not to the point of not going outside or traveling.  There has to be a happy medium.

  • Elayni

    Hi Julie,

    This might not be the average comment you’d expect to receive on this post but what I’d like to know is how does one become a travel writer excluding all of your tips? I’m based in South Africa and I am very much interested in becoming a writer (later to specialize in travel writing) but I’m not sure what courses to attend? What would you recommend I study? Creative writing, journalism or literature? I would really appreciate some advice?

  • Theaiscool

     you sed all this stuff but how much do they earn?!?!?!?!

  • Melissa Oliver

    This is a great article. Take a look at this website for example, they did incredibly well by switching to what was most wanted:

  • Jim Sack

    Misspelling in your text:  ”But travel writing iss more than just service pieces.”

  • Guest

    the links don’t work

  • Syed Nuzhat Hussain

    umm well I guess I’m about to begin my new life as a ‘ travel writer ‘ :)

  • Syazmimi Zakaria

    article ni mcm mintak aku benti keja sekarang gak n become trave writer.

  • Andrew King

    Best get started early!

  • Alistair McGuinness

    Love your comments about a walk beyond the front door is travel. I take my young children on ‘adventure walks’ to the local park. Sometimes we might stop and watch ants….I mean really stop..get down on our hands and knees and study their movement….last week my lad got his big toe nibbled by an army ant….so adventure walks have been put on hold until the swelling goes down!

  • Vanessa Shan Morgan

    Thanks a lot Julie, I have been writing since I left A-Levels 3 years ago and been working in retail, there’s some seriously good points in here. I am aspiring to be a travel writer and just starting to become a celebrity blogger, aka move over Perez Hilton and I will really learn from those tips. I don’t think people should be as critical to all these points because writing is fun and that is why I do it and the rejection part is so real, writers being critical to her tips on being a travel writer should learn to take negativity and move on! But as to invest in a course is cheap to me, it seems to me this article is selling the business and I don’t agree with them doing that.

  • Ferah-Murat Dikici

    Nice tips, thank you.

  • Selen Eskibina

    A very helpful guide for us all! Thanks a lot!
    I’ve also been writing my travels for a while, lately trying to be more professional, and here is my blog page:

  • Diana Elena Coza

    This is a truly “tipsful” article. now it’s just a matter of practice practice practice all of the above. Additionally, here are some facts about travel blogging:

  • Scott Hartman

    Simply the most concise listing of tips regarding writing that I’ve seen. I found myself nodding as I read each one. The last three as especially noteworthy, and in the end, if you follow none of the others… write.

  • Julie Schwietert Collazo

    Too bad that Matador decided to repurpose a piece I wrote several years ago, when I was on staff of both the Network and the U, and to redate it as being current. I no longer work at Matador, nor can I recommend the U for prospective students or aspiring writers and photographers. And one of the reasons is because Matador’s “management” exploit employees and former staff members, thinking that we’ll be silent and complicit with their treatment of us.

    • Wendy Hetlet DeChambeau

      Do you have any recourse?

    • Alice Driver

      they must be desperate

    • Zach Hyleman

      “BOOM” goes the dynamite!

    • Amanda Stutt


    • Ailsa Ross

      I saw that this was ‘published’ today, and thought it was really cheeky of Matador. I wonder how long it’ll be before this thread of comments disappears from the site…

    • Abhijit Gupta

      Very poor. And I was thinking of going back to U to complete the course I had started then. Doesn’t look good at all.

    • Abhijit Gupta

      Very poor. And I was thinking of going back to U to complete the course I had started then. Doesn’t look good at all.

    • Abhijit Gupta

      Very poor. And I was thinking of going back to U to complete the course I had started then. Doesn’t look good at all.

    • Donna M. Airoldi

      Awful in so many ways. Re-highlight the still-useful information? Yes. Blatantly lie about its real publish date? Shameful.

    • Karen Gardiner Dion


    • JoAnna Haugen

      Poor taste and downright unethical. Sorry to hear this happened to you, but thank you for calling them out on it.

    • Marie Szamborski

      Very poor, wow :(

  • Alice Driver

    Matador editors continue to exhibit unethical behavior by reposting old work without permission from the author to SELL their poorly run travel writing courses.

    • Julia Ann

      my classmate’s step-aunt makes $85 every hour on the internet. She has been fired from work for six months but last month her income was $16947 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here… http://www.Jax3.cℴm

  • Vinit Patil

    All 22 tips has so much value in it… Thank you

  • Jengo

    Hi julie

    i have traveled a reasonable amount and would like to know how to become a travel writer. Is there a route I should take or must I get a mentor.

  • barbararichards

    I would be curious to call Matador to see if in fact they repurposed this piece that Julie wrote several years ago when she was on staff. I am not one to trust what people say but go right to the source to see if in fact something is true. You would think that one would do this as a writer. Part of it is being a fact checker. For JoAnna to side with Julie by calling what Matador had done as poor taste and downright unethical is wrong to pat a person on the back in order to say well done and good job for calling them out on it. Julie did not call anybody out on anything. Her comment was a rant and vent. Nothing else. Wow. The day that I take someone’s word for it is the day I can quit writing. Shame on any of you who claim to be a writer and believed Julie in her claims against Matador. Obviously she is a woman scorned with no proof.

    • Anna

      Wouldn’t the source be Julie?

    • Anna

      Also, scroll through the comments. Many of them are from years ago but the post date is May. Great fact checking.

  • Charli

    Are there any other writers out there? How did you manage to become successful and make a living from writing?

  • Charli

    Are there any writers here? How did you start? Have you managed to make a living for yourself by writing?

  • Leon Pryce

    are you saying that you would not recommend the course to someone who wished to be a travel writer? thank you for being honest

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