If the idea of planning a family reunion fills you with dread, you’re not alone. It’s no minor task, especially when wrangling dozens of different schedules and budgets. To make the planning a family reunion a bit smoother, we tapped family travel specialists, tour operators, and even an etiquette expert to help you map out a memorable reunion.
Step 1: Lay the groundwork
Whether you decide to meet up in a distant location or host your reunion one state over, it’s going to take a lot of work to get a multigenerational group trip lined up. You should start the planning process at least a year in advance. Resorts and flights fill up fast—especially for large groups—so give yourself plenty of time to ensure you get decent prices and rooms near one another.
If your budget allows it, consider hiring a travel specialist or tour operator. Tom Barber, founder and director of Original Travel, explains: “A family-specialist travel company will listen to the brief, ask the right questions to find out what will work for the wider group, and generally make everything dreamily easy, from flights to transfers to accommodation to activities.” Plus, it takes the onus of the work off one member of the family, allowing everyone to enjoy the trip equally.
If you do decide to do the planning without professional help, make sure you delegate. Assign one member of each family unit to sit on the planning committee so you don’t have to hammer out everyone’s schedules alone. Create a Facebook group and include said committee members so you can easily ask questions, dole out tasks, and settle on details without bombarding everyone in a group text.
Step 2: Send out the invites
One of the biggest questions people have is: Who should I invite—just the people I’m closest to, or my entire extended family? According to Diane Gottsman, National Etiquette Expert at The Protocol School of Texas, go with the latter. “In general, the family reunion means you invite your extended family,” says Gottsman. “If there are a few people you choose to leave off the guest list, there should be a valid reason and not just due to petty discourse. The reason families have reunions is so everyone can see each other and reconnect.”
Once you have the whole family in the loop, that’s when you start asking about preferred dates and locations. The guest list will automatically shrink due to scheduling conflicts or budget concerns, but always cast a wide net in the initial stages.
Step 3: Set the date and budget
When it comes to planning family reunions, the “when” is almost more important than the “where.” You need to make sure that, regardless of the destination, you pick a time when kids are out of school and adults are able to take off work. Even if you have a specific destination in mind, nailing down the correct dates ensures you won’t accidentally visit during the region’s rainy season or compete with other groups during highly touristed holidays.
This is also the time to get a sense of each family unit’s maximum budget. Since the goal is looping in as many people as possible, you should settle on a budget that works for everyone. The sooner you start planning, the more likely you are to get the best prices on flights and hotels.
Step 4: Pick the location
Now comes the fun, albeit stressful, part: looking at family reunion ideas and choosing a destination. This is a daunting task when you have the globe at your fingertips. That’s why Jules Maury, family travel expert and head of Scott Dunn, recommends first finding out what family members don’t want, both in terms of destinations and activities. “You have to make sure the expectations include everyone in the very beginning,” says Maury. Have a cousin who hates horses? That rules out dude ranches. Got a grandparent who doesn’t want to take a ton of connecting flights? That rules out entire regions based on your home base (and perhaps narrows the range down to where the most people already live). Whittle down the possibilities to make the final decision easier.
And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Have you considered a cruise? How about a safari? A travel specialist will be able to help you land on a spot you may never have considered before. Both Barber and Maury, for example, suggest Sri Lanka as one of the best countries for a multigenerational trip, both in terms of stretching your dollar and finding a boutique hotel for the family. Or if you’re willing to book a few extra flights, you can do a safari in Kenya and then hop to an outlying island like Lamu. “You don’t have to spend an enormous amount of money to put people together,” Maury says. “Find a place that’s interesting and give them a taste of what they don’t usually have.”
Step 5: Book the accommodations and flights
Once you settle on the “when” and “where,” it’s time to nail down the accommodations. Whether you book a group of hotel rooms or a private villa, tackle this part of the equation as soon as possible to ensure the family is close together.
This stage is when you consider all the little details—like double-checking that your resort of choice doesn’t have age minimums that might bar the youngest members of your family. Or, if you know you’ll be traveling with a bunch of little ones, ask if there’s a kid’s club that can keep them entertained while the adults gather for drinks or spa treatments. If nap time is an issue, request rooms that are far away from the noisy hotel pool or other common area. One of the biggest mistakes families make when booking accommodations is “choosing somewhere that appeals to one or two of the generations, but not the third or fourth,” says Barber. As always, the key is to include and appease as many family members as possible.
Each family unit can be in charge of booking their own flights, but encourage people to look early if they want to sit next to each other.
Step 6: Start planning the itinerary
As your departure date gets closer, sketch out a rough itinerary for the trip. If you forgo using a tour operator, delegate tasks to ensure that one person isn’t juggling too much responsibility. For example, someone can be in charge of the cycling tour on day one, while another can head up the group dinner on night three.
Again, try to find activities that appeal to every generation. Ski trips and safaris tend have wide appeal, as do beach vacations. “I’ve always thought surfing is one of—if not the best—family holiday activity,” says Barber. “It’s challenging, rewarding, and tiring, which means children are normally zonked come evening and go to bed [early enough] for the growns to enjoy time without them.” If you choose a city break, Maury advises picking an urban area with lots of things for children to do, adding that it’s worth hiring a good tour guide “so the kids stay fascinated.”
It’s not necessary to carve out activities for every single second of the trip—some family units will probably break off and do their own thing during free time. But booking group activities ensures that the point of the family reunion—you know, spending time with family—actually happens.
Step 7: Keep the peace
All the details about dates and locations and activities don’t mean anything if your family is fighting the whole trip. While it’s impossible to plan a vacation that will please every person 24/7, you can still try to maintain a peaceful environment. Don’t bring a last-minute guest that hasn’t been planned for. Make sure you keep everyone up to date during the planning process, and be up front about pricing. Put aside sibling rivalries and petty feuds. And maybe save the raucous partying for a bachelor or bachelorette trip. “Make it a point to connect with everyone if it’s a small gathering, and as many people as possible at larger gatherings,” says Gottsman.
At the end of the day, your reunion is about spending time with the people you love. If everyone returns home feeling like they are a bit closer to their family—even if there’s a missed flight or limited options at a group dinner—then your trip will be a success.
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