22 May 2024

My Family Travel Essentials for Trips to Poland

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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. 

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