22 May 2024

My Family Travel Essentials for Trips to Poland

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 0 Comments

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When I first came to the UK, going back home to visit felt much easier. I was supposed to only be here temporarily, as a student, so my parents kept me on their health insurance and I didn't need to worry about needing to visit a doctor while home. I kept my Polish phone number for quite a while, so whenever I'd visit I could use it because I was visiting much more often then - I could just book some time off, find a cheap ticket, and go multiple times a year.

As it became clear I was staying in the UK for good, going home meant additional things that needed sorting ahead of travel. And when you add children into the mix, it really feels like a mission!

Luckily, there are a few items that you can get, that will make any trips to continental Europe just a little bit easier - these are all that I personally use every time we travel.



1. HyperJar card

I moved to the UK just after finishing high school, never worked back in Poland, and never had a chance to open a bank account. That means that on our trips to Poland, we'd have to use our UK cards, meaning foreign transaction charges - it's not too bad when you withdraw money from a cash machine there and only get a one-off charge, but the reality is that we're used to using cards to pay for everything now. Alternatively, we could take some cash with us and get it exchanged, but again it comes to the point that we hardly use cash.

This is why I now always use my HyperJar card when visiting Poland. I actually got one of them when adverts for all the pocket money cards for kids started popping up, but I didn't want to pay monthly fees for a service I knew we'd only use occasionally. That's when I found HyperJar, which is a free budgeting app where you can add money to then sort into virtual "jars" for different expenses or savings. In there you can create a kids' "jar" connected to your  main account and order them a card - you can transfer them money in seconds, and get notifications every time they spend. They've now introduced a one-off £4.99 processing fee for new kids' cards, but you get a £5 Amazon discount in return and there's no ongoing monthly fees.

So my first reason for getting HyperJar was that it offered a free children's card that I could use for pocket money, but I later learned that they are also great for travel - not only can you set up special travel jars, which can help to avoid overspending, but you also get to use your cards with zero fees and competitive exchange rates. 

You can check out all the details by clicking the image below: 

    



EHIC/GHIC + travel insurance

Although I'm a Polish citizen, and so are the kids, we don't get free healthcare, because again - I don't work there, don't pay National Insurance, so obviously not entitled to it. This is why we always get travel insurance, and we also have the EHIC/GHIC.

In case you don't know - EHIC is the European Health Insurance Card, which is a free card that entitles you to medically necessary state-provided healthcare during a temporary visit to any of the EU and EEA countries. You get access to treatment just like any person insured in those countries, often completely free depending on the particular healthcare system. It's important to remember though, that it doesn't cover private healthcare or any pre-planned procedures, and won't cover any costs beyond what's provided by the public healthcare system. It's still useful for emergencies - one of my work colleagues found himself in a situation where he needed an urgent surgery, and without the EHIC he would've been looking at thousands of pounds of medical fees.

Since Brexit, EHIC in the UK was replaced by GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card) which works on the same principle. EU citizens residing in the UK with rights under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for the UK EHIC instead. The cards are free and valid for 5 years - you can add family members to your application, but every person will receive their own card. Also, make sure to only apply through NHS and not any third-party websites that might try to charge you! 



SIM card with EU roaming

Before Brexit, you could use your standard allowance in the EU with pretty much every network. Now most of them still offer this, but some introduced extra charges unless you've been with the network for some time before the changes - for example my husband is with Three, and unless you're on certain plan, there's a daily charge for their Go Roam of £2 in Europe and £5 in the rest of the world. 

If your current plan doesn't offer free EU roaming, I'd recommend getting a SIM that does - I'm currently with Giffgaff on a monthly rolling plan, so my roaming is included with data capped at 5GB, while the PAYG gets charged at regular UK prices. Mr's other phone has a Lebara SIM, and again you can use your allowance just like at home with their plans, or at home prices on PAYG - you can also buy a Roaming Add-On for 10 or 15 days, which gives you a number of minutes and texts, plus a generous data allowance for your trip. 

If you want to check out Lebara and some of their plans (you can get a 30-day SIM only plan for just £5), CLICK HERE and you can enjoy up to 50% off plans for 3 months using my referral code. 



Xplora kids' watches 

Still kind of within the topic of phones and SIM cards. A couple of years ago I was testing kids' smartwatches from Xplora. First, we received an Xplora X5 Play for the eldest, and it's been a travel accessory for us ever since! 

The Xplora smartwatches are a perfect replacement for a phone, especially for the younger children. They come with step count, GPS, school mode, selfie camera, and call and messaging functions. The watch is managed by an app on a parent's phone, where you can add trusted phone numbers to the watch's contacts. The child can then make calls to those, and only those pre-approved contacts. Due to the screen size, there's no text messaging capability, but if a parent sends a message, the child can then reply with an emoji, photo, pre-set message, or a voice note. They can also earn points and rewards for being active.

I found the tracking pretty accurate - if we're at home, my app tracks the watches at our exact home address 99% of the time (sometimes shows us as the next door ;)). Voice quality is pretty decent, and the camera is good enough for a quick selfie - for example if the eldest goes to the park on his own, he can snap a selfie showing me he reached there safely.  

The X5 Play model we initially got now seems discontinued, but there's a slightly newer X6 Play available. We also own an XGO3 model for Mini, with pretty much the same functionalities, and I recently received the new Kidzi model a slight upgrade for the eldest.


Personally, I found the watches a great alternative to phones for children. I feel better knowing that if we go on a trip and, God forbid, they get lost, I'll be able to get in touch with them and vice versa. It gives us that peace of mind especially when going abroad, where they don't speak the language, and they can panic and forget our phone numbers. The watches being strapped to their wrists are also safer than having phones in their pockets, which they can potentially lose while out and about. 


You can check out the Xplora watches on Amazon, where you'll find all the models currently on offer, including the Kidzi which is an Amazon exclusive. You'll be able to choose from a variety of colours, and there's even an option to purchase the watch with Xplora SIM and plan already included. 

18 May 2024

Packing a Family for a Summer City Break (with printable checklist)

Saturday, May 18, 2024 0 Comments




Packing for family holidays can get pretty stressful. Especially when you're flying a budget airline and don't want to pay loads for extra luggage - we always squeeze our family of four into one 20kg suitcase, so I need to be quite smart with the packing.

It's definitely a bit easier in the summer, with lighter clothes that take up less space, but then again I'm one of those people who tend to overpack - because kids might need extras, because we might do something we didn't plan in advance, and what if the weather changes? Yeah, you can tell I'm a bit of an overthinker!

It's also a bit different for me to pack for a family visit. If we were going on a proper holiday, I would have all the activities planned, and hence I'd know what kind of clothes we'd need. When we go to Poland, it's mostly about visiting the family - we might have a couple of days out planned in advance, but mostly we just go with the flow. This time we're also attending a wedding, so I need to account for an outfit each for that day.


Bearing in mind that we have a limited suitcase space, I've put my foot down and set down some rules on how much everyone is allowed to take. I narrowed it down to the following list:



Oh yes, I'm a list kind of person. And it has to be on paper, digital planners just don't cut it for me. I think it's because I'm a reading/writing type of learner, and it's the easiest for me to follow written instructions, so it's really helpful to have a list I can tick off. 


When packing, I find it useful to separate things into categories. I consider what clothes need to be packed for the kids, what for me and the Mr, then which toiletries we need to pack, what travel documents we have to have, the electronics, and any other bits we might need.


On my printable list I left the space to put the number of items that you might want to pack, depending on the length of your stay. 


As we're going to Poland soon, staying for 10 days (I don't count the travel and the wedding we'll be attending this time), I thought I'd share how I pack our family of 4 for a city break there


Here's a sample packing guide for our 10-day city break in Poland:


For the kids:


I have two children, a boy and a girl with a 4-year age gap between them, so there will be a difference in what I pack for them. Mini is a really girly girl, so she'll want some summer dresses when the eldest will be wearing a t-shirt and shorts, so I just swap that accordingly.


  



When it comes to city breaks, the best thing is that in an emergency you'll be likely to find a shop to buy any extras you might need, or at least have easier access to washing facilities. I always have to keep in mind too that my Mum will have bought some stuff for her grandchildren, so I need to save some space for bringing that back with me! 


For myself:




No shorts on my list as I keep my outfits more modest, but again it's just an example of what I personally pack on holidays and you can obviously adjust the list according to your preferences. Also my husband, of course, swaps the dresses for extra t-shirts and trousers ;)





Hand luggage essentials



When we're traveling with a check-in bag, I try to keep our cabin bags simple - nothing worse than stressing around the airport with a heavy bag... Although who am I kidding, I always end up with an overloaded backpack on the way back when we're given way too much stuff to take back to the UK with us and our main suitcase ends up exceeding the weight allowance.


To make things easier (at least in theory), everyone takes their own cabin bag. I keep hold of all the travel documents in one place, but apart from that we each have our own things for easy access, so I don't have to dig through one overpacked rucksack.




Notice that I put spare clothes on there - even though my children are not little anymore, they tend to have trouble with a bit of travel sickness, so a spare t-shirt can be useful. I actually also take a few small plastic bags in case they get sick on the plane, as Ryanair removed the pockets on the backs of the seats and the little paper bag isn't right in front of you anymore for immediate access.


 

Toiletries


First of all - if you're traveling with a check-in bag, I'd say don't bother with the travel-sized stuff. Should you buy brand new toiletries for the trip? Depends - I'd rather take some that are maybe half-full, and if they run out, you just discard the bottles and have fewer things to bring back, so unless I *actually* need some new product, I just take the ones we already have at home. The only new thing I tend to buy are toothbrushes, so we can pack them ahead and not forget after brushing in the morning. I also don't bother with decanting things into the travel bottles, as it's easier to just pack everything in the check-in bag. The only things I put in the hand luggage would be a bottle of hand sanitiser, and maybe a small body spray - and if it's a morning flight, some make-up that I'd used just before leaving home. And again, as I mentioned above - if it's a city break, it should be easy to grab some basics from any local supermarket if needed.



General preparation tips, and things to do before leaving home


  • Set your alarm!
  • Make sure you have all your passports in the bag
  • Double check all your boarding passes
  • Make sure all devices (phones, power banks, tablets, e-readers etc.) are fully charged
  • Download movies/shows, books, games - make sure those are playable offline
  • Water plants
  • Unplug electronics, turn off sockets
  • Make sure all the windows and doors are locked
  • Remove any food that will go bad before your return - it's a good idea to keep something ready for when you come back though, like a carton of UHT milk, some cereal, loaf of bread in the freezer and maybe some ready meal
  • Empty the bins
  • Get your travel outfits laid out for everyone to just quickly change before leaving
  • Prepare any snacks or meal to eat before the trip to the airport


Don't forget you can just CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE LIST to help you with packing for your next trip!