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Saturday, November 30, 2013

How I Saved on My European Vacation...Airfare

When you start to plan your vacation, do you start to look at airfare prices and nearly give up? Yeah, I feel the same way sometimes and last year we abandoned our plans to go to Europe and just went to Anaheim instead. Our whole trip cost less than airfare would have. Well, this year we vowed not to let it happen. Airfare to the UK and Europe is still ridiculous, but this was the perfect time to use the frequent flyer miles we had collected with our British Airways card. When we signed up for it, we automatically were given 100,000 miles and have been using it for many things ever since. If you're going to buy things anyway, why not get something else out of it? We also started having our bills billed to that card and paying them off right away as we normally would.

So, just how much were regular flight prices to London? Oddly, London was the cheapest city to fly into. We checked Paris, as well as other cities in the U.K. like Dublin. After months of searching, the best price I could find online was just under $1,300 per person. Ack! The last time we went to London, it cost us less than $1,200...for both of us! Well, that wasn't going to happen. The only downside to using your frequent flyer miles is that you have to pay taxes and fees when you fly to a foreign country (and you might end up with a layover or two). We had to spend the day in Vancouver, BC, but we rented a car and did some sightseeing instead of being unhappy and spending all that time at the airport. I'll share more on that later.

Total cost: $1,400 (compared to $2,600 for full price)
Savings: $1,200

We didn't want to waste extra miles that we could use later on a short hop from London to Paris, so I did some research on budget carriers that were not the dreaded RyanAir. Last time we took the Eurostar, which I loved, but the cost was crazy. Now it costs something like $350 per person, which makes splitting up a trip really unaffordable.

I had heard great things about EasyJet, so I went online to check it out. I almost fell out of my chair when I realized we could fly from London to Paris one way (we were flying back home on BA from Paris) for $115, for both of us. I thought that choosing seats would be a big hassle, but for only $5 more, we were able to pick seats next to each other and got a free checked bag. I can't even fly from here to Seattle for $125 half the time, so this was a jackpot in my eyes. Not only was EasyJet better than even Southwest, but cheaper and the crew was really lovely.

Total cost: $125 (compared to $700 to take the train)
Savings: $575

So, not only did we actually get to go on the vacation we've been hoping to have for the last 5 years, we saved big everywhere. On airfare alone, we saved almost $1800, which, if you ask me, is a huge chunk of change...and almost a whole other vacation! Definitely a short getaway of some kind. 

Running tally: 
Accommodations: $342-522
Airfare: $1,775

What the most you've ever saved on airfare?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Do Your Holiday Shopping in Your Pajamas and Save!

I almost never go out and fight the crowds on Black Friday...or the rest of the holiday season. I don't have the patience to push people out of the way to save a few bucks. This year, why not stay in the cozy comfort of your own home and do your holiday shopping or travel booking? How can you do that? With the online sales and using Ebates. I never buy or book anything without first checking Ebates. What is it? It's a fantastic - and free! - site that offers you cash back for purchasing from online merchants. If you plan to make a purchase anyway, you might as well get something for being a loyal customer (or even a new customer). This Friday over 500 stores will be giving double cash back, which means you can keep even more money in your pocket, or buy more on the same budget!

Here's how it works: Sign up is quick and easy, then you're ready to shop! When you have a hankering to buy something, say, at Sephora, go to Ebates, sign in, click on Sephora and it takes you straight to the main website. You must go through Ebates, so they can track your purchase. At checkout, make sure you use the same email address you used to sign up on Ebates and within a few days, your purchase will show up in your account. You can track your cash back total to see how much you saved and then every quarter, Ebates sends you a Big Fat Check (if you choose that method) or a Big Fat Payment via Paypal. You even get $5 just for signing up! Who else does that? If there are coupon codes available or special sales, Ebates will show them to you, helping you save even MORE! Actually, after your first purchase of $25 or more, instead of a $5 bonus, you get a $10 gift card! 



I like to use my cash back as a travel savings supplement. Each time I make a purchase, I rack up cash and then it gets deposited right to my Paypal account. I use that money to purchase travel stuffs, like Groupons, clothing, tours and more! If I can get more cash back with it, even better! Of course, you can use it for whatever you want. This time of year, it's perfect for booking your holiday travel and buying gifts.

Stores you can shop at: Ebates has, literally, hundreds of online merchants you can choose from, including a long list of travel merchants. Just a sampling of those include: TravelSmith, Holiday Inn, Avis, Alaska Airlines, Camping World, Orbitz, Air France, Delta Airlines, HomeAway and even SkyMall! Keep your eyes out for the Daily Double. Each day one awesome merchant offers double cash back on your purchases for the day.

Why get elbowed in the eye trying to buy a gift this Friday when you can roll out of bed and hit the sales on your computer? No looking for parking, bundling up or hiding gifts in the trunk of your car with Ebates. Sign up now for free!

Are you taking advantage of Ebates' great deals this Friday or will you be braving the crowds at the mall?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review Times Two! Skyroll Spinner

Have you been looking for the most versatile carry-on out there for your travels (or maybe for the person who travels a ton on your gift list)? I reviewed the Skyroll Spinner before, but I wanted to do a quick follow-up now that I had a chance to use it on my vacation where I dragged it all over, put in both the baggage hold and the overhead, and packed it full of shoes, toiletries, our laptop and other necessary items for my trip. How did it hold up? 

One of my biggest pet peeves with luggage is that it only tends to roll okay on flat surfaces. I am not super strong, and I don't like having to wrench the case over sidewalk cracks or practically pull my arm out of socket when encountering uneven surfaces, like asphalt or cobblestone. The Skyroll was not an issue at all. It rolled perfectly through the airport, down the airplane aisle (really!), along the sidewalk and over the worst cobblestone I've ever had the misfortune of walking on (even in flats).

Look at everything that fits in there!
Eric propped our travel tote on top of it (that didn't have a handle attachment) and had almost no issues with it falling off, even over cracky sidewalks and transitions from wooden floors to escalators. The three handles made it particularly easy to maneuver it, whether we were going up and down steps in the Tube station, hauling the bag up our spiral staircase (sounds awesome, but not great for taking luggage upstairs) or getting the bag into the overhead of the airplane.

On the Metro, Eric keeps his Skyroll friend close!
Another plus of the spinner is that it is compact. Even wrapped up in its garment bag, it fits nearly everywhere and doesn't ever get in the way. That garment bag comes in really handy, too. Nobody is going to be able to steal stuff out of the top portion of the bag, because it covers up the zipper, but not so much that YOU can't get anything out. It also holds extra clothing you might acquire, without adding much bulk. We left with it holding Eric's dress shirt and suit jacket and came back with a cape I purchased at a vintage clothing store. I never had to loosen the straps either, so it didn't come back any fuller than we started, even though we had more in the bag in the end.

There it is in the closet!
As I said in another post, we are definitely thinking about buying another one of these bags, because it's so handy and easy to get around. If you want to read my previous post, do so here, or you can go straight to Skyroll and buy one now!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Review Times Two! GoLite Travel Tote

I have been using my GoLite Tote for my many trips to the farmers' market. In fact, I love it for packing with fruits and veggies and even baked goods. So much stuff fits in the tote, you can't even believe it. Plus, it's got a very strong set of handles that fit comfortably on your shoulder no matter how much you carry in it. Of course, you can see my full-length review here. On my trip, I planned to take it as a bag for my grocery shopping and market finds, but also needed some extra room in a carry-on for a container of snacks, games and electronics, so instead of using another carry-on bag, I decided to use it for that purpose as well. 

This carry-on needed to hold my purse, jacket, travel docs and anything else that was a necessity for 12 hours of flying, since our full-size carry-on bags would be stowed in the overhead. I found the GoLite to be a great travel companion. It also had room to fit anything I purchased at the airport and needed to stash away too.

I promise this is not as awkward as it seems. I just happen to be dragging
my carry-on and also hanging on to my passport and customs paperwork :)

Once we made it to our final destination (London!), I folded the tote into my day bag and took it with me to Portobello Market. Though we didn't buy a ton, it was nice to not have to carry around several plastic bags. We purchased some breakfast goods, a shirt and some coffee. Since we were hopping the train to get to the Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden, we also added our coats to the bag and then dropped it off at the "coat check" when we arrived. Upon leaving, we picked up the tote and then used it to also carry back our gift shop purchases. 

You can't believe how big these pastries were...and delicious.

If you know anyone who travels a lot (or likes to hang out at the farmers' market or bring their own bag to the grocery store), then this bag is definitely a great find. It comes in pretty colors and is affordable, too. If you want to know more about why I recommend it, check out my previous review or go straight to GoLite and purchase one now!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What a Traveler Wants - Holiday Gift List

O.M.G. Thanksgiving is almost here, which means the madness of Black Friday will be upon us before we know it. Apparently, it's now Black Thursday, Black Wednesday and Black All of November. I love the holidays as much as everyone else, but can we just take each holiday as it comes instead of making Christmas start in June? Also, is it really that important to get 10% off something at the store that you have to go wait outside the stores before people have even gone to bed? I like to use something called the internet to do 90% of the shopping that I don't do on vacation. For those of you who also like to shop online instead of being trampled by strangers trying to get half-price socks I have put together this fun gift list for the traveler on your list. Of course, there's still some time to get your own wish lists out to family before Black Nightmare begins, too.

We love these! Eric tested these out and found them to be so awesome that we actually bought a second pair and took them on our vacation. They are crazy durable, resist wrinkles and stains, look great for casual or dressy occasions and are quick drying. Wanting to improve on their already fantastic design, Bluff Works will have a new cut of pant rolling out early December - just in time for Christmas! This new design will feature two security pockets (keep your passport safe), a slightly different slash pocket that won't gap and a hidden loop in the front pocket for your keys. In the coming weeks we'll be reviewing the new pants and also running a giveaway. You're going to balk at the cost of the pants, but I guarantee you that they are worth the price, because they are going to LAST. Cost per wear is going to be incredibly low. Did I also mention that they pack well and take up minimal space? A male traveler is going to love these. 

Since most American electronic devices are now dual-watt, it's not necessary to purchase a power converter anymore, but if you're traveling outside of the US an adapter is a necessity. I purchased this bare bones one a while ago and it changes configurations for the different outlets in different countries (which saves space!) and works amazingly well. It's also super affordable and if you buy this pack of tow, you can keep one for yourself. It's definitely an easy stocking stuffer. Need more than one outlet, use it with this next item like I did.

We loved the one we had for travel so much that we bought one of these for our house, too. This compact little gadget is perfect for traveling, because you can make one free outlet into five! We plugged it into our adapter and were able to charge our laptop, cell phones and iPad mini at the same time. Pretty awesome, right? Yeah, I thought so. Belkin is a great brand and you can turn the plug 360 degrees, which means if you have a tight space, it will always fit. Double score! 

Travelon Boarding Bag
I reviewed this awesome bag and I think it's one of the best day bags to have in your travel arsenal. Not only does it hold a ton, it's unisex and keeps all your stuffs organized. It's a big step up from the old boarding bag, but is still compact, even though I was able to get two bottled sodas in it, my camera, makeup and a sweater in it. The strap is wide and comfortable and everything you need is right at your fingertips. It's especially great as, well, a boarding bag on the plane. I've use it as such and lent it to my mom for a flight, too. She liked that she could fit the necessary things from her purse in it, along with a paperback book and battery back-up for her phone.

For the hard-to-please lady traveler on your list, take a look at the luxe line of travel clothing by Anatomie. Choose a staple piece for their jetsetter lifestyle or go for a totally unique piece. You can't really go wrong. The prices aren't cheap, but they are well made, flattering and they'll get a ton of wear out of them, which makes it worth the price. Anatomie makes pants, tops, outerwear and dresses. Not only are they comfortable, but they don't look anything like travel clothes. They just wear like them. Perfect for the lady who likes to blend in.

Skyroll Spinner Carry-On
Maybe you have someone looking for a new travel bag. One that fits in the overhead, yet holds enough for a week's worth of clothes and necessities, is easy to maneuver and will keep your fancy clothes from wrinkling? The Skyroll Spinner has all those features and more, like that it holds your giant laptop, too! We rolled it all over London and Paris and had absolutely no problems with it. You can see how I packed it and this week you can see my second mini-review on it from our last trip, in case you aren't convinced of it's usefulness to travelers of all kinds. 

GoLite Travel Tote
It can be hard to find a multipurpose bag that is lightweight and good looking and is still durable. I had the opportunity to review the GoLite Travel Tote not too long ago and I have been using it ever since, primarily for my many trips to the farmers market. On our most recent trip, I planned to take it with me to the markets - and I did - but it also turned into my carry-on bag that held all my snacks, games and other in-flight necessities. I'll also be writing a mini review of this bag this week that shows how useful it was on our trip. It comes in great colors and seriously will hold my 30 lb market vegetable hauls.

I have one of these packed all the time for trips, so I can just add a few things and throw it in my carry-on. It holds everything I need, even once I get to my destination and unload my 3-1-1 bag(s) into it. A lot of bathrooms are lacking sufficient counter space, so beyond being able to have my toothbrush and toothpaste within reach, I always need to find a spot to put the rest of my stuff. the bag takes the inconvenience out of that by having an adjustable loop you can hang on the doorknob or towel rod or anywhere else you'd like to put it. This is a definite must-have for all travelers. If you feel like this one isn't quite big enough, I can also tell you the regular Hanging Toiletry Kit and the Pack-Flat Toiletry Kit are both spectacular choices too.

Knopf Travel Guides
Is there a destination on someone's travel list? Pick them up a one or two Knopf travel guides. They have fantastic pop-out maps and suggestions for all the fun and cool things to do in each neighborhood. They will be more excited than ever to plan their trip and will have a nice list of affordable things to do, see and places to eat. I took these guides with me to London and Paris (both times I traveled) and they were invaluable for finding attractions and underground stations.

While this is not a complete list of all the things I find to be great ideas for jetsetters, it's a good start and definitely full of things I would want to receive as a traveler. For more ideas, check out my previous list here. There will be more reviews and gift guides before the holidays get here, so keep reading the blog for ideas or sign up for my email subscription to be alerted to new posts right away.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Super Useful Travel Links

Happy Friday! Can you believe it's almost Thanksgiving already? Where has this year gone? I'm guessing that a lot of you will be traveling next week, or planning your trips over Christmas. Perhaps you haven't purchased your airfare yet or you have no idea what you're buying for gifts or how you're going to survive the holidays. I have rounded up some links to help you make it through:

photo credit: allerleirau via photopin cc

Do you have a traveler on your holiday gift list? Or perhaps you're looking for something to add to your own wish list? Well, look no further (OK, maybe check out my list of affordable and awesome gifts coming tomorrow), because the folks at SF Gate have a fab list of travel goodies.

Is trying to save on your next trip feeling like a second job? It shouldn't. Saving money on travel is super easy (though takes some time) when you know how to do it. These 8 tips from Savvy Sugar are tried and true. If you want to pack your brain with tons of money-saving knowledge, there's always my book. You'll seriously look like a frugal traveling genius in no time!

Traveling is hungry work, especially when you're trying to pack gifts, make tight connections and not flip out over delayed flights and connections that seem to be 10 miles away from your arrival gate. You need to eat in between all the holiday chaos. You probably have an extra 15 minutes to find food - something that isn't smashed at the bottom of your carry-on and used to be covered in chocolate - that is tasty and actually healthy for you. Print out this article from abc news if you will be traveling through any of the twelve healthiest airports. If not, you can check out my list of where and what to eat when you're flying.

Speaking of eating, did you know there's no snacking in Rome? OK, that's a bit extreme. You can snack whenever you want, but think again if you want to roam (ha!) the city with your food, because the government is having none of that. They think us tourists eating their local yummy cuisine near their fabulous monuments is giving the city a bad look, and they aren't the only ones! Would this keep you from traveling to Italy?

And in other food-related news, while you're watching where you're eating on vacation, you also need to watch how you're eating on vacation. Indulging in food is one of the best things about travel, but different cultures may had different customs, so make sure you read up on this Budget Travel article before you go eating a delicious dish and accidentally offending someone.

After you've spent a bunch of dollars on getting to your destination, and possibly gifts for loved ones and a new outfit for the holidays, you might want to spend some time outside and, probably, eating a meal. How can you save money when eating out? Just having water is a start, but there are plenty of other ways, like these from msnbc or these that I suggest and use myself. In fact, Eric and I split many meals on our recent trip and it worked out perfectly.

Chances are, if you are traveling anywhere, you'll be taking along your trusty mobile phone. We took ours to England and France and had minimal problems after adding an international plan to both smartphones before leaving. No, you don't get unlimited data, and thinking like that is what results in you coming home to a $752,342 phone bill. Turn notifications and unnecessary data off until you absolutely need it and download a great app like Voxer to send and receive FREE texts. (Better than $.50 per and it's really fun to use.) For more tips on using your smartphone abroad, check out this article from YouMustBeTrippin.

And last, but certainly not least, everyone likes to get something for free. You do, don't you? A true budget traveler looks for as many freebies as possible. Why pay if you don't have to? Eric and I took advantage of free museums and a other things on our trip in order to save some money, but also, it was really fun. And free WiFi out in public? It's like the Holy Grail for a lost traveler. The Star has some other ideas of what freebies you can take advantage of and where!

Hopefully, some of these links were helpful to you. If you found any funny, interesting or informative links lately, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How I Saved on My European Vacation...Accommodations

Traveling to Europe is not necessarily as expensive as most people think it is. When you plan carefully, it can be quite affordable. Our trip to London and Paris wasn't exactly cheap, but with a lot of research, I was able to save big all around. I'll be talking about them all in parts in the next few weeks. Right now, I'd like to talk about how I saved on my awesome accommodations in each place. 

I planned to stay in a timeshare in at least one of our destinations, but when that fell through, I started looking at lodgings with kitchenettes. My plan was to stay in the same place we stayed at in London on our honeymoon. Though it wasn't fancy, it had everything we needed and was conveniently located. They had been slowly renovating their building and rooms, so I was willing to pay a little extra for that. Unfortunately, the hotel had a fire earlier this year and they were not taking any bookings at all. 

Knowing that I wanted to stay in an apartment-like lodging, I decided to look at apartment rentals. I searched FlipKey and a few others before I remembered the great reviews I'd read from people who had used Airbnb. Not only did they have tons of listings, but I could search by amenities, price and neighborhood. After contacting many owners for my travel dates, I finally found the perfect place. A flat with a loft bedroom in a building complex with security and a store that was near a tube station. It was a little further east than I hoped to stay, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed. The place was bright and open, the kitchen was more than we needed and it had a washer/dryer. We honestly couldn't ask for anything else. Check it out:

Rate: $101/night (compare to $120/night 7 years ago, possibly $150/night now)
Savings: $19-49/night x 6 nights

While not exactly cheap, it was budget-friendly by London standards and also was even cheaper than the rates we paid at the place we stayed 7 years ago. What?? Unheard of, right? I was sold on this idea of renting from apartment owners, so I started searching for flats in Paris.

While I was looking for our perfect place in the City of Lights, I also wanted to see if I could find a hotel in the Disneyland area that had a shuttle to the parks, wouldn't cost me a fortune and wouldn't have me wasting hours on the train each day getting there and back. I had hoped to stay at a Disneyland property, but it appears the French economy has bounced back and the rates for three nights was totally out of our budget now. I hunted on ever site I could find and when I found a great rate, I cross-checked it across the board. 

I ended up finding the best deal through Expedia, where I also get points for making a reservation that I can use later. The hotel I found was the Hotel Elysee, which was right across the street from the train station, had free shuttles to the park all day and a buffet breakfast included each morning. When I say buffet, I mean full buffet! If you left there hungry, you just weren't trying. 

Rate: $95/night (compared to $85/night in Paris + ($15pp) transport each day + breakfast - approx. $30)
Savings: $50/night for two people

Since staying near Disneyland made more sense, we split out accommodations in Paris to 3 nights each. After several rounds of searches on FlipKey and Airbnb, I finally found a lovely flat in the 13th Arr. It was a studio, in a secure building with a small kitchen and a washing machine (I am serious about my laundry when I travel) and near the Metro station. The neighborhood was very quiet and the building was close to at least a dozen restaurants and patisseries, drug stores and major shopping. The flat was cozy and perfect for our needs and I wish we could have stayed much longer. The bed was even more comfortable than some hotel beds I've slept in. It was a definite gem. Look at how cute it was!

Rate: $69/night (compared to $95/night in hotel with free breakfast)
Savings: $26/night

If you add up all the money I saved just on accommodations, it comes out to a significant amount: $342-522. That money alone paid for our 3-day tickets to Disneyland ($350). Score! If we claim the high side, we could have covered much of our food there as well. I'm feeling pretty good about choices. In fact, I was so thrilled with the flats we rented, I wish I could start planning another trip back.

What's your favorite way to save money on accommodations?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Creating a Mix and Match Travel Wardrobe for Men

Last week I posted about creating a minimal, but impactful travel wardrobe.  The guys were really interested in one for them, too. As easy as it is for guys to pack light, it's not always in a way that gives enough variation if you are planning to do different types of things on your trip. On our trip to London and Paris, we had to pack for general sightseeing, fancier occasions like tea and theater and also for running around a theme park. Now, normally, we would just throw some jeans and khakis in a bag and go, but we wanted to blend in also keep warm and dry in the cold, and possibly rainy, weather. Now, I did not keep a log of Eric's outfits, nor did I make him do a crazy changing session for me for the purposes of this post, but I did get this full-length photo of him and came up with a similar packing list below.

Long sleeve shirts were imperative for this trip, as we would be spending a lot of time outside and needed a good layer under a coat. Eric chose three pair of pants to bring with him. Two of them were Bluff Works, which hold up to practically anything, are quick-drying, can work as dress or casual pants and can go many wears between washes. The other were a pair of cargo pants from GoLite. (I have replaced them with jeans, as most people are more comfortable in them.) He also wore a pair of Columbia boots and packed a pair of dressier loafers that were also great for walking. 

men's travel wardrobe 1

We shopped Columbia for a shirt similar to the one above that features a zip pocket (for keeping a wallet and/or passport safe from thieves). Eric really liked this shirt and, being flannel, it was warm and comfortable and a great layering piece over a t-shirt and under a jacket. So, we bought two different colors and packed them both.

men's travel wardrobe 2

Finding a sweater that he would wear was a bit trickier. Being the total opposite of me, Eric is always hot, so he doesn't often wear sweaters. Fortunately, I found one made by a company like Columbia and REI that was breathable, lightweight, but still warm. that meant it could also be layered over one of the other shirts if needed. A similar one can be found here. A sweater can be casual, but can also be dressed up with slacks and nice shoes, so it can be worn for nice activities, like lunch on a yacht!

men's travel wardrobe 3

Everyone should own a polo: short sleeve and long sleeve. While these are reminiscent of dudes playing the back nine, they are also the perfect balance of comfort and preppy, so you can look put together enough for anything not requiring a dinner jacket. You probably already have one of these in your closet, but if not, Columbia has a great one that is breathable and quick-drying, making it a great travel companion. And again, can be layered under the sweater if you need to bulk up.

men's travel wardrobe 4

Packing a jacket can be a pain, but if you plan to go out to a nice dinner or take in a play, it's worth it to include one in your carry-on. Lucky for us, the Skyroll spinner bag has that nifty garment bag on the outside. Eric also owns a "packable" jacket I bought for him some time ago on TravelSmith. It doesn't really wrinkle and it doesn't take up as much space as a normal jacket (though still kind of bulky), but it works in a variety of situations and it looks good. Now, you can pack a boring white shirt, or mix it up with a pop of color here (nobody will know if you wear the same shirt on different occasions, except you). The easiest part of all of your dressed up look is a tie. You can bring one or several, since they hardly take up any room. Obviously, I like a tartan pattern, but that's just me. Take along any that you have that will match with the shirt, pants and jacket you're packing.

This is what the majority of our pics looked like +/- sunglasses, +/- hats

Though most of our pictures from vacation were of us all bundled up, there are plenty of times we were inside and able to take our coats off, so you could actually see what we were wearing. For those times, five shirts and three pairs of pants could combine to make at least fifteen different outfits. You could get more looks by layering, though you have enough variety in there to not get bored with your look, wear everything you brought and not look the same twice in a two week vacation. You are probably still going to want to do laundry (as we did at least three loads on our trip) to keep things fresh smelling, but this easily packable wardrobe will always have you looking fresh.

Do you have a style of packing light that works for you? Tell us about it.
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