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The Shocking Truth about the Maldives: On a Budget? Listen up!

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While many independent travelers dismiss the Maldives as too expensive or as a luxury tourist trap, we’re going to blow these misconceptions out of the water (no pun intended).

Now you can have an interesting, real cultural adventure in the exotic Maldives islands for a fraction of resort prices.

This is no typical beach bum holiday – unless of course you want it to be!

How is this possible? How did a couple of travelers on a budget get to experience this island retreat? It started with a bit of research, a bit more bravery and leaving decisions to the last minute.

But you don’t need to follow in those exact footsteps – we’ve done the hard work for you and will share our experience with you. We’ve even got some tips to discover the real Maldives easily and without spending the typical $200-500 per night on a hotel room.

Discovering the Real Maldives
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, surrounded by blue-green lagoons, decorated with tiny islands here and there, we found ourselves in the Maldives. Frequented by wealthy resort-goers and famous people like David Beckham and Michael Phelps, it’s not the obvious destination for adventure or cultural travel experiences.

maldives aerial view

Maldives from Above: Local Flights within the Maldives have an Amazing View of the Lagoons and Islands

In recent years, though, some political changes have opened up a whole new area of accommodation options. Not the water bungalows that Maldives images often portray, but local island hideaways, among Maldivian people with comparably stunning surroundings.

This is where we ended up when we took advantage of a flight deal to go on a long-awaited holiday from the desk job day-to-day in the UK. What we didn’t know was that we had landed right smack in the beginning of a tourism trend. When we realized this, a lightbulb flashed and a wave was set in motion that would carry us to a whole new life, just 2 years later (almost to the day) when travel would become our lifestyle.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Our discovery began in the Maldives capital airport, in Male. Stepping out into the arrivals area you can already see the ocean and feel the heat – a great island welcome.

No matter where you go, you’re reminded that you’re in the islands. The airport is on a neighbouring island to the capital city, Male, also an island which is small enough that you’re never more than a few minutes from the sea.

Just a couple of bucks got us to Male by ferry, than another couple for the local ferry to Guraidhoo – the island where our guesthouse awaited. We’d been recommended this guesthouse by the airport info desk as we had taken the risk and hadn’t booked in advance.
*Note: This is not recommended as immigration can be sticklers – requiring the name of your hotel and proof of a return flight ticket. Best to book in advance if you can.

maldives airport

View from Male Airport Arrivals area – the blue sea awaits!

 

Local Island Living in the Maldives
We passed a couple hours on the ferry, the only foreigners, and stared out into the watery horizon from which seemed to appear islands almost out of nowhere. It started to hit us – just how secluded and expansive this island nation really is. And how beautiful.

We arrived on Guraidhoo and were greeted by a smiling little man we would come to know as Handu. He was the local island guide for tourists visiting the island and the relative of our guesthouse owners.

We began to realize that in these isolated communities, everyone basically knows each other or is related, so almost anyone can help you find what you want – for a price of course. That is the thing with Guraidhoo, it’s set up for tourists with a “Main Street” (a short stretch of unpaved road) lined with souvenir shops, since this was a stop for resort tourists on their excursions.

This makes Guraidhoo different to other islands – a bit more tourist-oriented. We would later find out that this is not a typical village and while it is a nice place to stay for the cheaper guesthouses, we saw that there are even quieter local islands to discover.

“We stared out into the watery horizon, from which seemed to appear islands almost out of nowhere. It started to hit us – just how secluded and expansive this island nation really is.”

We were so excited to be there and to have scored a great deal on accommodation. We were happy with our ensuite room (all guesthouses in the Maldives have ensuite bathrooms) in a small apartment with living area and balcony. And we hadn’t even gone on any excursions yet.

When we stepped onto beach islands where we were THE ONLY PEOPLE there it really started to feel like something special. We hired a dhoni (traditional boat) and our driver, a local fisherman, took us on trips to sandbank islands, snorkelling, to deserted and resort islands – we even fished with him and saw dolphins randomly on the way back in the evening.

These excursions made up most of our days, as the island we were on didn’t have bikini beaches- though some local islands have private beaches. Most days we went off the island and the evenings were quiet and peaceful.

We hadn’t done much diving or surfing prior to that trip but the Maldives is well-known as a dive, surf and water adventure sport destination. Liveaboards have long been around taking avid divers around the countless Maldives dive spots. Guesthouses can arrange excursions as well, that’s how we planned ours, or they can come as part of the room rate package.

maldives dhoni jetty

Our dhoni (left) pulls away from the jetty leaving us on the beach island for the day!

 

Let Me Upgrade You: The Secret to Cheap Stays in the Maldives
Much like getting a free upgrade to a superior room at a hotel or first class in an airplane, we constantly had a sense of value and felt like we were getting a deal, like we were “special” somehow. Paying less than resort tourists but surrounded by the same beauty, it’s the feeling we hope to pass on to readers.

So without further ado, and you may have already guessed it, the main secret to a traveler’s experience (not a holiday maker) in the Maldives is: Guesthouse accommodation.

Guesthouses? In the luxury Maldives? Why have I not heard of this?

Well it’s only since 2009 that foreigners have been permitted to stay on local islands. No longer limited to resorts, privately owned islands, tourists can now stay among the local population. Guesthouses have been popping up ever since, but the numbers remain small compared to resorts.

When we returned to the Maldives some time later, we got to see some of the range of guesthouses there are out there. Genuinely, we were floored to see the quality and comfort offered at these local places. From an Eco-lodge in the northern islands run by a lovely, enterprising Maldivian couple, to a modern hideaway in the village of Omadhoo with welcoming hosts. We felt we just had to share these places for others to experience them. This is how Guesthouses-in-Maldives.com was born.

During our first trip we paid 80/night room only for a double room and we ate at the local restaurants – there are a few on Guraidhoo. Once we learned more we found the best way to get value is to book a package including activities and meals.

maldives guesthouse

A cozy guest house where you can relax on local islands in the Maldives

 

Here are a few more tips to getting the most value out of a stay on a local island:

5 Top Tips to Pack in Value & Immerse Yourself in Maldives Local Life

1. Have afternoon tea.

Well it might not be the fancy afternoon tea you get in the UK, but there are sweets and tea the Maldivian way.  In the late afternoon you can kick back at a simple cafe where you’ll be surrounded by locals, just one part of the laid back way of life.

2. Attend local events.

Even in the remotest corners of the earth schools hold fundraisers and people gather around to let the music move them.  We were on Hanimadhoo Island when they had a school event and I think they were as interested to see us there as we were to see them.  The children were divided into teams and each group had a station set up to sell different snacks or goodies.  We went around and bought something at each one.  There was music and we wore the badges some of the teams were giving out… it was a cool experience to be part of the community. In the evenings the local band practiced, which not only added to the island atmosphere, but could be a chance to join in on the dancing and merriment.

3. Just ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions,  why something is the way it is, in a polite way of course.  Showing interest can make the locals realize you’re there to understand, not just to take photos.

On Guraidhoo the tsunami destroyed many buildings and funds were given to rebuild them, so the island you see now is not the island it has always been.  Every island has its culture and its story to be told; each local island we visited in the Maldives was very different in its atmosphere.

4. Seek Out Culture.

On the culture note, ask about historical or cultural spots to visit around your guest house region.  We had a private tour of Utheemu Palace in the north of the Maldives, which was unique.  If you don’t ask it might be assumed you want to stick to the usual tourist activities.

5. Know what you’re getting into.

The local islands of the Maldives are unlike the resort islands in a few ways that you may not be used to.  Local islands have beaches – but not all of them have private beaches where foreigners can swim in their usual swimwear (bikinis, etc).  In addition, alcohol is not permitted for sale on local islands so any guest house “bar” will be serving cool refreshing juice and mocktails.

But before you dismiss this as a reason not to go – remember that almost all stays are booked as packages so you’ll have excursions to deserted islands and resort islands that have the more traditional beach holiday feel.  Also, many guest houses are enclosed giving private space to guests where they can tan and relax with their toes in the sand, right inside the guest house. There are tons of options.

maldives food

A little different than the British set but Maldivian afternoon tea has its own tasty treats

 

So there you have it – your ticket to visiting the Maldives even if you’re not featured in People Magazine this month.  And speaking of tickets, one last item on budgeting to go to the islands of the Maldives – the flight conundrum.  It’s not the staying in the Maldives that’s the costly part, it’s getting there.  How to get around this?

Several tips for keeping costs down when travelling to the Maldives:

1. Use Skyscanner.net to find the cheapest flights.  Fortunately Maldives weather holds up year round (search “whole year” instead of a specific date if you’re flexible).

2. Make the Maldives an add-on to another trip and fly from Sri Lanka or India.

3. Go in the off season. Even though the weather stays good in the Maldives all year, it’s the increased traffic from more northern countries with cold winters that makes November to April the pricier season.  Try booking at the beginning or end of that period or outside it all together.

4. Choose a guest house that suits your budget and expectations.  With more and more guest houses popping up on the islands, there is now a range of services on offer.  Some are almost at the level of a resort, with onsite swimming pools, etc.  On islands with more guesthouses, like Maafushi, you can find cheaper rooms, but the experience will not be the same as that on a more secluded island.

5. Decide whether a package with meals and activities or just meals suits you best.  With limited restaurants on the local islands, getting meals included is likely in your best bet.  However, on the activities is where you could save further on your stay.  You’ll need to decide whether you want activities to be included, so you can do excursions every day, or whether you just want to get out of the island for an excursion or two over a longer duration.  Then, compare the package price versus the individual excursion prices to see which option will work out cheaper for your needs.

Almost all have private beach access now, so if that’s all you’re looking for you may not want to pay more for excursions.

 

Once the flight prices are figured out you’re basically there!  Grab your sunscreen, swimsuit and snorkel mask – you’ll be dipping your toes in in no time.  Check out the different locations of the many guesthouses to pick your favorite.

We genuinely hope more travelers will get to experience the real Maldives, like we did!

 

In the meantime, you can pop over to Guesthouses-in-Maldives.com to see our recommended guesthouses. And the info above is still relevant including our 5 Top Tips to Pack in Value & Immerse Yourself in Maldives Local Life. 

 

2016 UPDATE:
A lot has changed in the Maldives since our first visit in 2010.
Then, guesthouses were just getting started; they were limited in location and what they offered in terms of facilities.

In just a few short years, guesthouses and local islands have become more popular and many properties now offer private beaches and even resort-like facilities, including swimming pools.

So much has changed so quickly that we are releasing a whole new source of information.  We’re putting together a guide to guesthouses in the Maldives.

We’ve continued to strengthen our relationships with new and old guesthouses, and their owners and guests, so we have great insights on the best places to be NOW depending on your budget and your expectations. Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when our guide is published!  

Sign up here

(Don’t worry, we hate spam too. We only send info we think will interest you and we never share your details.)

About DNTM Editor

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40 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Shocking Truth about the Maldives: On a Budget? Listen up! | Budget Travel in Maldives

  2. Jay Poliq

    November 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Hello,

    Greetings!

    Can I ask the name of the guesthouse and its contact number. I will be going to Maldives in January 2014.

    How much is the rate?

    Thanks

    Jay

    • DNTM Editor

      November 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      Hi there,
      Sorry, I just saw your message. You can check out the different guesthouses available on guesthouses-in-maldives.com. Have a great trip! And book soon – they fill up fast in the high season!
      Jennifer

  3. Yi Zee

    November 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

    $80 might be “budget” to you, but how about “room in a house” or dormitory style for US$10 per night (without food)

    I read on Thorntree Lonely Planet of this

    Yes, sure, you will say they are not trying to be a low cost island , but everyone has their own budget.

    How about an owner letting pitch your tent on their property and charging a fee?? i paid $2 per day for this in Venezuela within 100 m of the sandy beach. Note, could even sleep on the sand, but paying for the security of your bags to be protected during the day (it’s not about a tent per say but cheap accommodation).

    150_ countries traveled and still going strong , not accepting the status quo.

    • Sarah

      February 17, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      Yi Zee, why so upset about this?!
      If it´s not “on a budget” for you, don´t even leave a comment.
      I Think i´s a lot of nice information!

      I´ve been to 143 countries so i´m not far behind, don´t say i don´t know anything about travelling on a budget, cause i do!
      But I respect other peoples view of things!

      • DNTM Editor

        February 17, 2016 at 2:21 pm

        Thanks Sarah for your support. We do understand that the Maldives is not “budget” travel in the strictest sense (we live in Thailand)! We just wanted to point out that the Maldives is no longer only for high-end resort-goers; that there are “budget” options available.
        Enjoy the Maldives! :)

  4. MightyTravels

    January 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    FlyDubai recently started flights to Male – often for very low fares. Also consider staying in Male and just do snorkeling trips to the hotel beaches. These often run for $20 or less per day and give you lot’s of variety.

  5. PJ

    January 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

    It’s great to hear that there are other options, apart from expensive resorts, in this perfect tropical paradise! We’ve been hoping to surf there someday, and your post really helped us get an idea of how to afford the trip without going bankrupt.
    http://palamutishop.com

  6. Humzah

    January 29, 2014 at 7:04 am

    I was interested in knowing what budget activities are available in Maldives? The cruises and all water activities seem to be very expensive.

    • DNTM Editor

      January 30, 2014 at 11:02 am

      For dive cruises you can watch for deals on sites like http://www.maldivesdivetravel.com/ and guesthouses generally offer good value with activities included in their packages. Also, extra activities from local islands are much cheaper than from resorts. You can check guest house package prices at http://www.guesthouses-in-maldives.com. The point is, whereas previously the Maldives offered only private resorts frequented only by people who can spend hundreds per night on a holiday package, now there are options for people that do need to consider their budget. While it’s certainly not a Thailand budget, it’s a whole new ball game for tourism in the Maldives.

  7. ian | limbonis.com

    March 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    hoping to encourage more backpacking in places even maldives

    http://www.limbonis.com/2014/02/maldives-on-budget.html

    • DNTM Editor

      March 12, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Hi Ian. Thanks for sharing your article of how to have a budget-ish holiday adventure in the Maldives! Cool to hear how you did it. Sounds like those triple rooms help cut down the costs. Happy travels!

      • Ian

        July 21, 2014 at 4:13 pm

        Yes sir ;-). In fact, i even thought of camping just to get rid of unnecessary expenses, thought at the time wasn’t sure if it’ll be possible. Apparently, it is ;-)

  8. Pingback: Maldives, where the sands of time stand still {BUDGET} | Charlotte's web

  9. Clariza | Travel Insurance Singapore

    August 13, 2014 at 7:06 am

    Traveling on a tight budget could be very practical yet exciting. I am planning to go to Maldives with my friend on March 2015. We are flying from Singapore to Maldives and is planning to stay in UI INN hotel.

    SG -Maldives = SGD $377.90/pax roundtrip (Tiger Airways)

    UI INN hotel = SGD $40/pax (3nights)

    I think this is not a bad deal.

    • Jerry

      August 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm

      Hello,

      How was the UI Hotel? Is the location okay? Is the view beautiful?

      Can you share your experience with us?

    • Kris

      October 23, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      Hey! I’m just wondering where you found this UI INN hostel

  10. Valeria

    December 10, 2014 at 5:16 am

    Hello, I would like to know how much is it expected to spend on food on Maldives, lets say for lunch and dinner per person on an average.

    • DNTM Editor

      December 10, 2014 at 7:30 am

      Hi there, Generally for guesthouses on remote islands guests book a package that includes meals. Since the islands are small there are not numerous restaurants to go to so the guesthouses offer meals and make them part of the package. You can see package prices with meals on http://www.guesthouses-in-maldives.com

  11. Nomadic Boys

    March 14, 2015 at 5:36 am

    We went last November to the Maldives and you are right: a lot has changed. We stayed on a small island in the Alif Alif attoll called Thoddoo Island. We noticed guesthouses were being built everythere but it is still beautiful and not crowded yet. I wonder if in a few years, Maldives will suffer the same fate as the thai islands: Mass tourism, dead corals, etc…

    • DNTM Editor

      March 14, 2015 at 6:05 am

      Hey guys, thanks for the update about Thoddoo Island. Yes it’s a fine line isn’t it – there are benefits to more types of tourists being able to visit, but potential problems as well. On the other hand, the Maldives already has mass resort/dive tourism, and the cultural differences will likely prevent the same type of hedonism that is rampant in Thailand. (Though there are still quiet corners of Thailand to be found too, that’s where we are based).
      Anyway, thanks again. I really appreciate you posting about your recent experience in the Maldives! Let’s see what the future will hold… cheers

      • Nomadic Boys

        March 16, 2015 at 7:00 am

        Where are you guys based? We spent island hopping in Thaïland, you can check our (cheesy) video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msiigPI5ouE
        We were shocked by the number of ruined corals although some places still had some healthy corals, like for instance around Ko Tarutao national park which was our favourite place.

        • DNTM Editor

          March 16, 2015 at 7:53 am

          We’re in Phuket. Interesting about the corals in Thailand… I can’t comment as we haven’t been diving here. Such a shame when people don’t take proper care. Hopefully in Maldives with the slow building of the lower budget tourism industry they will be able to keep a better handle on it.

  12. ask

    March 18, 2015 at 10:56 am

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  13. RAY

    April 1, 2015 at 3:55 am

    Hi I would like to know if Maldives is considered low season from August 22-Sept 7?

    My mom and I are planning to go on a trip and I have 2 weeks off work. Do you think two weeks is too much time to spend in Maldives? Or should I go somewhere else closeby for a week ?

    Thanks
    Ray

    • DNTM Editor

      April 1, 2015 at 4:22 am

      Hi there,
      As much as we LOVE the Maldives, depending on what you do there, 2 weeks is a lot of time to spend in one island there. BUT there are some options to mix it up within the Maldives so that 2 weeks will fly by. And 2 weeks means you can see more of the Maldives than most people.

      One option is diving – are either of you scuba divers? There are many dive cruises (and even for non-divers) that are 7 nights and you get to see several atolls of the Maldives. There are boats like ScubaSpa that accommodate both divers and non-divers (they have spa packages and mixed dive-spa packages available).
      Option 2 is to split your stay between 2 different regions. What’s great about having 2 weeks is you can go further outside the usual tourist path in the Maldives than most other visitors. For example – you could spend one week in a more remote atoll that requires domestic flight, like Vaavu or the North (Hanimaadhoo Island) and another week in a more central atoll.

      Aug/Sept is considered “low season” in terms of tourist traffic, but it’s high season for certain marine life – you are going at a great time to see mantas and whale sharks! And to see whale sharks you don’t need to be a diver – you can snorkel and see them. Hanifaru bay and that region is very famous for these megafauna.
      One good thing is, low season in the Maldives does not necessarily mean rain every day, it generally means there is a chance of rainy spurts here and there (whereas in the high season it’s really dry and almost never rains).
      I would highly recommend making mantas/whale sharks a priority, as not many people get to visit during this special time.

      I hope that helps! It’s hard to give good advice as I’m not sure what you like your style of holiday to be, but I would suggest not staying on the same island for 2 weeks. If you’d like more tailored recommendations based on your interests, send a message here and they’ll be happy to recommend.

  14. Massimo

    June 14, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for promoting experience of local tourism.
    You are sincerely welcome in our Beach Heaven guest house in Huraa, North Male Atoll!
    Have a nice day,
    Massimo

    • DNTM Editor

      February 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      I’m not sure why I didn’t reply to this earlier when I approved the comment – apologies Massimo! And thanks so much for the invite, that’s kind of you :)

  15. Soliman

    August 25, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Guest houses along with the safari boats are the most interesting budget holidays in Maldives. If you want to avoid transportation expenses i recommend you to choose a local island in North Male atoll or south Male Atoll … forget about Rashdoo, Ari or other atolls, way too far from Male by public transportation. In north Male atolls you have different famous local islands such as Maafushi, Tulusdhoo, Guraidhoo… all these islands have a lot of cheap guests houses. You can reach these islands by public transportation from male directly . On friday there is usually only one boat departing from male. Do not hesitate to ask the guests houses and they will give you all the information regarding transfers . You can also check directly the official transportation website http://www.mtcc.com.mv
    However I strongly recommend you to ask the guests houses they will give you better information than this website.

    Otherwise if you are a group and you want to travel and discover Maldives , sandbanks, robinson island, different snorkeling spots, local islands, diving, surfing then i recommend you budget cruise holidays. You can charter your own small private wooden vessel with crew and travel around Maldives, excursions, cabins, food, equipment are included (you can also have alcohol on board and it is not the case with guests houses)… According to me this is the cheapest and best way to discover Maldives and discover real Maldives far from the fakes & over expensive resorts.

    • DNTM Editor

      February 17, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      I’m not sure why I didn’t reply to this earlier when I approved the comment – apologies Soliman! Thanks for the addition of the great information.
      It’s true that the closer guest houses are cheaper and with public transport are cheaper to get to as well. However, for divers and those who just want to get away from the tourist masses in the Male region, getting beyond the central atolls to Ari and Rasdhoo or others will provide better diving experiences.

      Absolutely agree that guesthouses are the best way to see the Maldives.

    • Abdul

      September 18, 2016 at 10:49 am

      I found your comment quite useful as I am also planning to visit Maldive. I think think there is one correction Maafushi is in South Male Atoll and not in North Male as you mentioned in the comment. Am I correct?
      Best regards, Abdul

  16. Raymond

    March 14, 2016 at 7:35 am

    Hi DNTM,

    I have plans going to Maldives in the 3rd quarter. How much should I account for food cost and accommodation cost for my trip? I will be with my girlfriend, and we wanted to explore Maldives on a “budget” cost. So thought you might help. I’ve heard words from some of my friends who went there but wanted to check the ranges of how “cheap” it could get relatively. Appreciate your response if you would ever be able to read this, amidst your busy-ness. :)

    Thanks mucho!

    -DoroExplorero
    http://www.raymondvasquez.com

    • DNTM Editor

      March 14, 2016 at 8:30 am

      Hi Raymond! Let me look into it and get back to you. In the meantime, the cheapest islands are Maafushi and any accessible by local ferry. It depends too on the experience you want, if the guesthouse has a private beach and snorkelling from the island then you don’t need excursions necessarily so you will save on that.

      You can also compare packages with and without meals. Without meals may be cheaper but many islands are limited in their food options outside the guesthouse.

      That’s just some general notes for now. More later :)

  17. Poonam

    March 22, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Male, the capital of the Maldives Islands is a charming city. It boasts a number of recognized landmarks which should be on the itinerary of every visitor planning a Maldives city tour. You can explore many places to visit in male.

  18. Brenda

    April 3, 2016 at 11:53 am

    I love Maafushi! it’s like our islands in the Philippines. but I went to the maldives to see the overwater bungalows, its azure water and coral atolls. really thanks to maafushi and the excursions! :D

  19. Milan

    September 8, 2016 at 3:25 am

    I’d like to add up-to-date details.
    1)There are about 15 guest houses in Guraidhoo right now.
    2)Bikini is allowed in nearby picnic island. There is a bridge that connect Guraidhoo and this island
    3)To get discounted prices send a message via their website.
    4)For cheap flight tickets check global.cheapflights.com and momondo.com as well

    I found from some Belarus guy that lives there very useful. A lot of well described local islands and some tips.

  20. Maldives

    September 25, 2016 at 4:43 am

    Great information! The Maldives is one of those places I have never really considered visiting.

  21. suraj

    January 2, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Maldives is one of my favorite travel destinations in Asia. And I think to experience best of Luxury travel in Asia, you have to visit Maldives… it offers to many amazing things to do for its tourists that everybody ought to live this place. there is awesome things to do and specially for honeymoon couples.

  22. Agness of a TukTuk

    February 14, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Maldives isn’t really known for budget travel, but thanks to these tips, it’s totally possible! Wonderful job sharing them! I was in Maldives, and the place was magical, people shouldn’t be afraid to travel there just because of the cost. There is definitely a way around that.

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