New Directions took guests on a train trip along the Southern California coast two months ago. | Credit: Courtesy

The Santa Barbara–based New Directions is a nonprofit that provides a unique opportunity for people with a range of mental and/or physical disabilities to travel the world safely. Until the pandemic hit in 2020, travelers came from across the United States to join tours taking them to places as diverse as Fiji or Italy. They have been able to enjoy the rides at Universal Studios, cruise the waters of the Caribbean,  and experience an African safari — and never have their disabilities stop them.  

The woman behind New Directions, longtime Santa Barbara resident Dee Duncan, got the idea for the supported-travel program while working with local people with disabilities. She noticed that many could not be with their family during the winter holidays, so she began offering a trip to Disneyland. Demand for these trips multiplied, growing into the organization it is today. “We have taken more than 35,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities on travel excursions all over the world!” said Duncan. 

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New Directions’ mission embraces equality and aims to provide opportunity to explore the world for anyone with a wanderlust spirit — regardless of financial or logistical barriers, of which there can be many. Its small staff provides well-trained volunteers to accompany the travelers, allowing their regular caregivers to enjoy time off with the confidence that all medical and logistical issues will be handled safely. It is a winning formula, with volunteers and travelers forging life-long bonds thanks to their shared passion of seeing the world.

In March, New Directions began organizing trips again. Its first trip since the pandemic was a four-day train tour on the Pacific Coast Surfliner going from L.A. to San Juan Capistrano with a return stop in Santa Barbara. It was a great success.

For more information regarding New Directions Travel, ways to donate, or to further volunteering with the nonprofit, visit Be sure to follow them on social media @NewDirectionsTravel.

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