Life Changing Moments Achieved Through Travel
My daughter, 4, boomerangs up and down the stairs to a waterslide meant for children much older. She has charmed a lifeguard in Jamaica into believing she can handle this, and she does, repeatedly, beaming each time. By the end of the day, they have nicknamed her “Baby Girl” and “Fish.”
In Cancun on the beach my beautiful brown-eyed girl, now 5, drives a baseball down the beach sending players scrambling. I am seated near enough to hear the little boys holler: “Man, that little girl can hit!” My heart swells.
In Punta Cana, I film my kids as they float above the beach dangling over the water, parasailing for the first time. “Is that a child up there?” I overhear this and smile.
In a resort in Mexico, my daughter teaches all the other children at kid’s club French. Later that day in the pool she makes friends with kids from all over the world.
There are an infinite number of reasons to vote for travel, but these are mine.
Special Needs Family Travel
I vote for special needs travel because I have a family and because my kids have unique needs.
Let me explain.
My children have so many strengths, and a few challenges too. They are my most rewarding experiences, yet also my hardest ones.
When we first received our youngest daughter’s diagnosis our world got very small. Ainsley couldn’t tolerate noise, or change, or bright lights. She was forever screaming and having meltdowns. We changed her environment to help her cope. Our environment changed too, of course. We made schedules. We took her to all of the therapy appointments, and doctor’s appointments, specialists and assessments and even specialized dentistry.
We spent countless hours advocating for support at school. Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it failed. We tried harder. We tried differently. We missed other people’s parties, family functions, showers, and funerals. We were isolated and exhausted, physically, financially and emotionally drained. We were frazzled.
When we reached a plateau where we thought we might be gaining some ground, my other daughter went through a similar process. Summer assessments and weekly therapy were the norm. Missed work, missed school and many phone calls home in the middle of the day. We were drained, collapsing into bed every night.
We set one foot in front of the other each day. One day at a time. But the problem with one day at a time is that you can never get ahead and you can never plan ahead. It’s a hard way to be in the world.
Travel With Special Needs Children Seemed Out of Reach
For years, we didn’t dare to dream of traveling. It was out of reach – it seemed impossible. Both of our daughters’ needs were significant. And yet very slowly, we got better at figuring them both out. We evolved into more creative people with an entirely different skill set.
I had loved traveling before we adopted our girls. I dreamed of bringing them with us and seeing different places and cultures together. Somewhere in the midst of their diagnoses, I wondered, “could we make it work again?” My husband doubted we could. Travel with special needs on deck is dicey sometimes. But I kept wondering, “if not now, then when?”
Special Needs Children NEED Travel
Managing special needs and parenting with special needs was just another part of our life. The diagnoses wouldn’t go away and my kids deserved to see the world as much as any other child without complex needs. In fact, I feel the case can be made that families with special needs NEED travel even more sometimes. It is essential to our wellbeing. Last year I wrote about how special needs travel is our respite. So we mapped out a way to build our kid’s tolerance for the changes that travel involves.
By the time our youngest was four, we started small road trips. We built success slowly and one tiny road trip at a time. We slowly graduated to air travel. Disney, Kissimmee. And then more. Eventually, we found a new rhythm traveling together with special needs on deck. Mexico, Jamaica, Vermont, Quebec, Dominican Republic…and many more stamps in our passport.
There will always be challenges and moments when we fail to prepare either of our girls enough. There will always be moments when exhaustion or something else tips the scales and my kids have panic attacks on the way to the airport, or in the airport, or meltdowns on the plane. But as they get older, they learn they are safe traveling with us.
They enjoy the benefits of being daughters of a travel blogger. My youngest has grown immensely. On our last trip, she brought homework and after skiing hard all day, snowshoeing and chasing instructors downhill for hours, she happily worked quietly on her homework without being asked. When you do your work, school personnel are less concerned about days spent on the road with Mom and Dad.
Memories Last Forever
As I write this I am planning another trip. It has been too long since I have had one of those “reach for the sunglasses” moments that remains etched on my heart forever. Yesterday my older daughter asked,”Mom do you recall the time I won best navigational skills in a canoe?” It had slipped away from me but these things are the ones she holds close and easily remembers.
Travel is Our Respite
Special needs travel gets my vote every time. When we travel together as a family, sometimes my kids are just kids. Together we grow stronger as a family and we learn about the world.
We find places together where special needs don’t matter. In Mexico, all the appointments, advocacy, and stress falls away. In Vermont, we glow and play and race each other downhill. Sometimes the kids are the ones stopping fast, traversing a mountain sideways to pick me up when I hit the ice and skid off course. The irony and beauty of that is not lost on me.
Travel Memories Sustain Us
In Jamaica, nobody judges or fails to support either of my kids. We are just a family on vacation, one of us transformed into a fish. These travel successes sustain us even in the down months when school and work and doctors fill the hours.
Even eight years later, I recall the time my daughter belted that baseball, the words the other kids said, the time my eldest danced without a care in the world as we set sail for a week of exploring in the eastern Caribbean, the time someone dubbed my daughter a Fish.
Paula Schuck is a travel, tech and lifestyle blogger at Thrifty Momma’s Tips. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who gave up chasing train wrecks to build a family and a business as a social media consultant. Paula is a Mom of two who loves to travel with her family and has a strong interest in multi-generational and special needs travel. Published in many national parenting magazines, newspapers, and online, Paula can’t wait for her next big adventure and looks forward to the 2016/2017 ski season. Connect with Paula here.
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