Trip to the Motherland

travel 2This summer our family was able to experience one of the greatest family trips and language/cultural emersion opportunities: a trip to Poland.

We spent 2 weeks in Poland and it was wonderful in every regard. I got to see my family whom I haven’t seen in over 6 years. I got to see and celebrate my remarkable younger cousin/brother-from-a-different-mother get married to his beautiful bride. I got to show my son and husband my motherland. And most importantly, I got to see my worlds combine when my family in Poland and my son and husband met one another. Just thinking of that moment would make my ugly cry from happiness weeks before our trip.

My son handled the flight like a champ! I was expecting the worst and packed everything but the kitchen sink, but ended up not using majority of the items (check out my suggested carry-on packing list so you won’t make the same mistakes I did). When we finally met up with my family, my son was a little timid but by no means freighted of his surroundings. Although he wanted to be held either by me or my mom, he was going up to my cousins and aunt after settling in at my aunt’s house (which was filled with balloons and toys just for him). One playful toss up in the air from my younger cousin and my son was sold on his uncle.

katedraI was pleasantly surprised how quickly my son adjusted to the trip. My son walked around town like he owned the place and interacted with my family members as if he has known them for years. The neighborhood playground became his favorite place to play. He felt comfortable around all of his aunts and uncles (who spoiled him rotten) that he would at times cry and run to the door when they left.

Aside from being constantly showered with attention and affection, my son enjoyed straight-from-the-bakery rolls and different soups daily. And we can’t forget that time where I asked my grandma if she could make him a couple of apple pancakes and she comes out holding a huge platter that could feed our entire family. “Everything for the little guy” was the motto of our stay.

I fully embraced and basked in the fact that my son would be immersed in the Polish language 24/7. Granted it was only for 2 weeks, but that is a lot more than he gets at home. However, a strange thing happened a week into our stay. Although my son understood everything that was said to him and even started repeating some Polish words, he suddenly began speaking in English! And this was before my English-speaking husband joined us. When he wanted to go outside, he would call for his shoes instead of buty like he has in the past. The trip was quite the cultural and language exchange, as my grandma can now say “shoes” and “ball.” 🙂

My husband and I were also very fortunate to be able to sightsee. En route to Krakow, we toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and toured/paid our respects at the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. IMG_2824While in Krakow, we visited the Wawel Cathedral and Castle, and had dinner in the Old Town (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

IMG_3030A couple of days later we drove to the opposite side of Poland to Gdansk. There, we visited Westerplatte (where World War II began), the highly interactive and recommended Solidarity Museum, and Old Town, where we climbed over 400 steps to the tower at St. Mary’s Church and then had lunch and dinner in two of the many cute restaurants that line the gorgeous streets.

I was worried about how the trip will be for my husband given that he doesn’t speak Polish. It can be frustrating and exhausting for the non-language speaker to be surrounded by a language one doesn’t understand for 24/7. Similarly, it can be exhausted for the bilingual person to constantly have to translate conversations and have all forms of communication go through you. Yet everyone, from my husband to my non-English speaking relatives, were very understanding and patient, which helped make the situations more pleasant.

During our trip I was able to stock up on a lot of Polish children’s books, toys, games, and DVDs. My son is too young for majority of them (like this adorable map puzzle), and can’t quite sit still to watch a movie, but I look forward to him playing with the games and watching the movies in the future. He does, however, love to dance with his little Polish speaking puppy.

Although we have been back home for less than a month, I already can’t wait to be back in Poland.

Flying with a Toddler: A Carry-on Packing List

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Amid all the first world chaos that was our summer, we were able to take our family trip to Poland. I hated the 12+ flights to Poland when I would travel alone, so the thought of making that trek with a toddler made me nervous and exhausted. I scoured various baby and mommy blogs for packing lists and activity ideas. I tend to over pack as is, and when I did pack (more like stuff) all of the suggested items, the bag was huge. Luckily it passed the TSA and airline regulations, but it was very bulky and cumbersome to carry as I already had many bags, a stroller, and a toddler.

The list below is of items that, based on the knowledge/experience I have now, I would pack to carry on a second flight with my toddler. It is based on my toddler’s needs/personality and is merely a suggestion to be altered to your own child’s needs.

  • A stroller is a must. You check it at the gate before you board and it will be waiting for you when you exit the plane.
  • Sippy Cup/Bottle
  • Definitely pack formula or breast milk if your child still takes the bottle. Our airline had milk available and the flight attendant’s kindly warmed up the multiple cups of milk that I requested.
  • Baby food. I took 10 food pouches on our trip, which was about 7 too many. My toddler was constipated on the flight and didn’t want to eat much aside from a few bites of bread that came with our meals and a snack here or there. Our airline also provided baby food (Gerber baby food en route to Europe and Hipp [German equivalent] en route to the States).
  • Child’s “lovey” whether it is a blanket or toy. My son doesn’t leave home without his puppy.
  • Changing pad.
  • The amount of diapers and wipes depends on their accessibility at your destination. Since I could easily buy diapers in Poland, I packed eight diapers (I figured two diapers per hour, plus two extra). I would suggest packing one or two overnight diapers. Since they are more absorbent, you can go a little bit longer without changing the diaper. I put them on my son before he fell asleep and as we were getting closer to land. In one instance, my son was asleep for a while and slept through the landing. Once we landed, we needed to rush to our next terminal, while still having to wait in the long customs line. It was only until we boarded the next plane that I was able to change him.
  • Extra clothes. I brought one sweater and two changes of clothes for me and my son. This was a very good thing as my son threw up twice (all over himself and me) before we even went through security!  Don’t forget plastic bags for the soiled/dirty clothes or diapers.
  • Small container of baby soap. As mentioned above, my son threw up twice before our flight to Europe, resulting in a “shower” for me and my son in the sink of the airport bathroom. Needless to say, baby wipes and public restroom hand soap does not remove vomit stench completely.
  • Carabineer hooks. I used these to clip my son’s toddler backpack to my carry-on suitcase or the stroller when he didn’t want to wear it. I also used a hook to clip the diaper bag to the carry-on suit case so that I didn’t have a bagillion of loose travel pieces flying around. Most importantly, it served as a source of entertainment for my son for about 5 minutes. Win.
  • Toys.  My child’s lovey, a small book, and an Etch a Sketch were enough. A lot of sites suggested to bring a lot of small (wrapped) toys and take them out every hour or so to keep the child engaged. I refused due to limited space, but my mom brought a bag of small toys. My toddler didn’t show any interest in the toys. He was perfectly content with his lovey, Etch a Sketch, and carabineer hooks, and of course all the sights, sounds, and flight attendants aboard our flight(s).
  • Crayons and notepad/coloring book.  My son spent some time doodling in a blank notebook.  I bought triangular-shaped crayons so if dropped they wouldn’t roll away.
  • Medicine.  Always good to have on hand. I packed acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Pedialyte, and grype water. Please consult with your child’s doctor before administering any medication.
  • Antibacterial wipes. Airplanes are notorious for being germ hotspots. I wiped the armrests, tray table, and everything else wipeable that I knew little hands would touch.

Click here for the free printable list

Hope this list helps as you prepare for an upcoming trip. Safe travels!