Things To Know

5 Reasons To Travel With A Special-Needs Kid

family photo

Parenting a special-needs kid is very much a blessing. It’s also exhausting. The energy it takes just to manage the day-to-day can leave families wondering if travel is more work than it’s worth. Been there. My sweet 12-year-old, one of two girls, has physical, medical and developmental challenges that make it easy to feel tapped out on an ordinary day. But I’ve learned that family travel with her really is doable. Moreover, it’s important and liberating. Really!

Consider all the things travel lets you and your children do:

Learn about the world around you

It’s good to be reminded that there’s a whole world out there beyond the doctors, therapists and school that consume your attention. And it’s invigorating to be a part of this bigger world. It helps keep things in perspective. Let your kids can learn about different places at their own pace, from their own viewpoint and you’ll see those things in a fresh and different way yourself.

As with any child, when my daughter is listening to a story that involves the beach we talk about all of the beaches she’s been to and what they were like. Then we build on that by talking about the ocean, marine animals and geography in terms she can relate to. These new experiences also empower her to not be afraid of the outside world. Travel has helped my daughter become more adept at handling changes and accessibility challenges. It’s taught her to look for solutions instead of just getting frustrated and even to be more independent.

Reconnect as a family

When we got back from a recent ski vacation in Park City, UT, my 15-year-old remarked, “The best part of our trip was that our family was doing something together, just like other families do.” Pick a destination together that you’ll all love.  Exploring someplace new takes coordination and teamwork, but the payoff is fun and adventure that you enjoy as a family and it’s worth it.


Without your daily schedule pulling you in a million directions, your mind and body can rest a little. In addition to family time, set aside time for you and your partner, as well as one-on-one time with your other kids, who might sometimes feel overshadowed by their sibling’s needs. And don’t forget to find time for yourself; maybe a massage or an early morning walk on the beach while everyone else is still sleeping. I call this recharging time my “blue sky.”

Create great memories

When you’re dealing with ongoing medical issues it can seem like there’s never a good time to go, but it’s important to make time. Last year we spent five months getting my daughter through a significant medical challenge where she was in constant pain (and there were no guarantee she’d completely recover). I am typically very optimistic, but four months in I started wondering if the best was behind us. What if I didn’t get my little girl back? Had she really fully lived? I renewed my commitment to make everyday count. Even if our vacations had more “detours” than other families’ I owed it to her and to myself (and the rest of my family) to at least try to create the kind of vacation moments that you remember fondly.

Remember that you can

Every family is different, but I am convinced that there is a way for everyone to get out and enjoy family travel, gain a new perspective and recharge. If you haven’t traveled with your special-needs kid before, start small, make plans (and back up plans), then just go with the flow. It gets easier and more rewarding with practice.

It’s time to start planning for spring and summer travel. Where do you want to go?

Karin Sheets is a special needs travel contributor for several websites. Her family travel blog is Special Needs Travel Mom You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Marina K. Villatoro
    March 30, 2012 at 11:20 am — Reply

    Great article Karin! You really inspire people to travel.

  2. Karin
    March 25, 2012 at 7:24 am — Reply

    Hi Kathy, I apologize for the delayed response. What are the biggest challenges, are they behavioral? Is she medically fragile? Is it the overwhelming nature of the challenges all together? I have found that staying in a hotel that has great service and is very comfortable can make our vacation exceptional; it’s worth a little extra money to be able to enjoy our time. I don’t typically explain my daughter ahead of time, in the past when I have done this it hasn’t really been helpful because that representative on the other end of the line has no concept of how to help us or what we need. I have learned that the better approach is to determine what we will need to really enjoy our stay and then ask specific questions to find out what’s available. For example, my daughter needs a quiet space to decompress or it’s not fun for anyone, so we either get adjoining rooms or a 1-bedroom suite. We need a refrigerator for meds and a microwave is nice. There are resorts that have specific special needs programs, but I haven’t tested them out yet. As I write I am on the Disney Fantasy cruise for a press trip, finding out how they accommodate special needs kids. I will let you know… Are you in the west? San Diego is wonderfully accessible, and although I have not stayed that Loews Resort on Coronado, I have been speaking with PR there and they are very welcoming for families like are, and willing to help with accommodations. They are right on the beach and have on property restaurants, spa and pool so you can stay as close as you would like. I also love the accessibility of San Diego – and the sunshine! Happy travels!

  3. Kathy Radigan
    March 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm — Reply

    Thank you so much for this great article. I have a child who is also developmentally delayed, has medical issues and also has bi-polar disorder, we have gone away a few times but before Lizzy was on medication. It was great, but so stressful that we stopped and started going on “Staycations”. I would like to try it again for all the reasons you sited. Are there any tips you have found helpful while traveling with your daughter? Do you let the hotel know that your child has issues? Are there some vacation spots that are better or more receptive to a special needs family? Thanks so much for sharing your great families story.

  4. Max M
    March 22, 2012 at 9:34 am — Reply

    What a great story as well as a great reminder for me and my family. I too have a daughter with some significant special needs. But my wife and I feel the same as Karin stated. We have taken our family camping every summer for the last 6 years. We had to adapt from tent camping to RVing but we still get to enjoy it as a family, and my daughter loves to smell the flowers.

    • Karin
      March 25, 2012 at 7:03 am — Reply

      Max, I love that you and your family camp. Wishing you wonderful adventures!

  5. Linda M
    March 22, 2012 at 9:28 am — Reply

    This is a beautiful and important article. I hope it is widely read!

    • Karin
      March 25, 2012 at 6:59 am — Reply

      Thanks Linda!

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