Before having children, I wouldn’t balk at a 17-hour road trip to the west coast. Drive to a ski resort in the middle of winter? How fun! Sure, let’s meet up with our friends at that festival two states away. We’ll just figure out our sleeping arrangements when we get there.

After having children, especially one who had physical and cognitive disabilities, I couldn’t even fathom these thoughts. Did we actually operate like that?

Yet, travel remained important to my family. Seeing new views; learning a piece of history in real life, rather than a book; and having new experiences like boat rides, cab rides through a busy city, and hikes next to waterfalls were awe-inspiring. We couldn’t and shouldn’t give it up. So, we made it work.

We eased into traveling by visiting family members first. When my daughter was a baby, my family would meet us at the airport just happy to see us and the baby. They would drive us to their home, a real house complete with dinner cooked, ready for us to arrive. They had borrowed a portable crib and highchair for the baby to use and we packed our monitors so we could enjoy our time while the baby slept. We were able to visit with family and friends this way; happily taking in the experience of being away from our home even if it wasn’t a terribly exciting or new place to visit.

Once we gathered the confidence as well as tips and tricks to traveling, like packing what’s easy to travel with and borrowing the larger items (if possible) from where you are staying; not keeping an expectation of anyone staying on a routine while away; and bringing along a sleep-inducing antihistamine for an allergy (or sleepless night) that may occur….we started venturing into other trips.

Obviously, the kid-friendly places, such as Disney World and Universal Studies were easy places to travel to with the family. This was even true for our family, who had a child with disabilities. The hotels were modern with handicap-accessible rooms at the ready; passes available to skip the lines, and more than accommodating staff.

Even with the ease of the resorts and attractions that made our children smile and laugh, we knew we had to keep certain expectations in mind. We knew our daughter could only tolerate so much excitement, walking, and heat. We had no expectation that we would spend an entire day at a park. In fact, our expectation was that we would do just a few hours in the park, and the rest of the time at the hotel. We wouldn’t be seeing any evening shows, parades, or fireworks because my daughter would not be able to stay awake that late. But, since we had this expectation going into the trip, there was no longing or disappointment when the evening came and fireworks were heard in the distance. Instead, we relished the fact that we were probably the most well-rested family at the place!

Eventually, my husband and I decided we wanted to really travel. Travel that involved seeing new sights. So we discovered another easy option for our family – cruising. We scrimped and saved for months so that we could afford two rooms, adjoining, with a balcony. This may seem excessive – but if we were going to enjoy this vacation, this was necessary.

The two rooms meant that we would have two bathrooms. My daughter needed assistance in the bathroom, and she suffered from a disorder that required her to need more time in the bathroom as well, so having an “extra” one for the rest of us to use was imperative.

The two rooms also meant that my daughter could have her own bed to sleep in. As many parents of children who have special needs understand, swaying from routine (like sharing a bed with your brother when you do not at home) is more disruptive than is sometimes worth.

The balcony was for my husband and me to feel like we were on vacation. My daughter went to sleep every night at 7 pm. It did not matter that we were on vacation – she physically did not have the energy to make it past that hour. So at 7 pm, when she crashed into her bed in the adjoining room, my husband and I could sit on the balcony and enjoy the ocean breeze, feeling all the excitement of being in the middle of the sea far away from home.

When the cruise docked at the various ports during the week, we were one of the first ones off the boat. We didn’t sign up for any excursions – most were not handicapped accessible. Instead, we would walk around the town and stop for lunch somewhere and then head back to the boat. Once on board again, we would typically enjoy the pool all to ourselves since most of the other passengers were off exploring the port.

On a few occasions, if the stop was particularly interesting to us, we hired a local taxicab driver to drive our family around and show us the local sites. This was surprisingly affordable and got us away from the touristy areas that felt more like home than the country we were visiting. The driver would also share his experiences living in the area and was able to answer any of our questions. All the while, my daughter wasn’t taxed with walking everywhere and getting overwhelmed by the crowds.

We did get comfortable enough traveling that we were able to travel to other types of destinations. We upgraded hotel rooms since we spent a lot of time there, particularly evenings. We tried getting an extra room or one-bedroom suite so that my daughter could sleep in peace (starting at 7 pm each night) tucked away and the rest of us could comfortably lounge around the room, reading or watching TV. We only planned one site-seeing type adventure per day and tried to keep it to a half day at most. We would eat breakfast in the hotel, have an ice cream cone for lunch, then have an early dinner before heading back to the room for the night.

We became so well-versed in traveling that we didn’t even bat an eye about booking family trips, even though my daughter had significant disabilities. Keeping our expectations in check was the most valuable lesson we learned. And although we never saw all the sites there are to see in a destination (after all, who does?) we got a great flavor of an area all while getting a full night’s sleep. We hardly ever suffered from the “needing a vacation from the vacation” syndrome that most families experience. I’m not sure I could travel any other way now.