15 Tips for Planning a Family Reunion

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This time of year, many families are thinking ahead to school breaks and summer as perfect opportunities for a family reunion. I’ve helped organize several family reunions in Maine, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, and also planned multigenerational trips to special places like StoryLand in New Hampshire, Woodloch in Pennsylvania, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York City. One special highlight is our 2016 trip to Disney World that included BOTH sets of grandparents.

If your family is thinking of going on a multigenerational trip or are planning a family reunion, here are 15 pieces of advice to help plan the perfect trip:

  1. Give everyone a voice: Start by taking a poll (google forms work really well!) to collect opinions about location, time of year, length of stay, and activities. These opinions will help drive major decisions and set a budget.
  2. Prioritize sleeping and bathing arrangements: Try and make sure there are enough bedrooms (and beds) for all of the adults; Kids are far more flexible and can sleep on couches, air mattresses, even in a sleeping bag on the floor. We have found it is helpful if each family has their own bathroom and kids must ONLY use their parents bathroom.  If there is a traditional half bath on the main floor, we designate that bathroom for guests/ people not staying in the main house. 
  3. Discuss all inclusive versus a la cart options: Some families prefer “writing one check” and having everything included in their stay, while some groups may prefer to choose which meals and what activities deserve their monetary attention and avoid “wasting” money on elements that are not as important to their needs or interest.
  4. Discuss and plan meals ahead of time: Begin and end their day together. Create a google doc where everyone can share their favorite foods and make note of allergies. Breakfast is an easy meal to make and serve for large groups. Assign each family a night for a themed dinner, when that family cooks and cleans up for the whole group. Some of our family’s favorites include lasagna, tacos, barbecue, and pizza. 
  5. Consider going out or having a “special meal” catered: Consider hiring a private chef or caterer for a special meal like a lobster boil or clam bake and consider dining out at least once or twice to get a better sense of the new-to-you location. Ask locals for their recommendations (or house owners if you’re going the AirBnb or VRBO route) and make sure to make reservations, especially for large groups. We prefer to go out on a weeknight to (attempt to) avoid some of the crowds.
  6. Avoid hangriness: Make sure to have plenty of snacks and easy access to water. Be sure to hide the large bags of salty snacks that kids may open, grab a handful, and leave the bag open; instead leave healthier options, or individually wrapped items, out on the counter, within easy reach of kids. Stick to a schedule for meals- see #9.
  7. Keep safety (especially for kids) in mind: Have “house rules” for who can go where and when. Make sure kids stay in groups of at least three and that someone has a phone to keep in touch. Anything that involves water (pools, lakes, oceans etc) should have MULTIPLE adults supervising at ALL times. 
  8. Stick to routines, especially for younger children and older grandparents: Make sure to discuss typical wake up times and bedtimes to manage expectations for planning meals and activities. A mid day “siesta” can be good for everyone, including teens and adults who may not nap, but might need a little alone time or to enjoy a hobby or activity by themselves. 
  9. Schedule a few anchor activities: There are always two categories of people: those who plan their vacation minute by minute and those who wake up and think about what they want to do that day. Try and land in the middle- plan one anchor activity each day, or a few major ones throughout a trip, that everyone knows about and will attend. Then give people the freedom to plan their own activities or find something organically (those activities can sometimes end up being the best memories). 
  10. Think sustainable where and when you can: Try to avoid using plastic plates and silverware (especially if there is a dishwasher(s)) you can use for easy clean up. Gift everyone a reusable water bottle and write their name on it. Each person is responsible for their own bottle and keeping it clean- it will cut down on wasting plastic cups AND running the dishwasher just for cups and glasses.  Make a plan for recycling before/at the start of the trip so items can be recycled properly. 
  11. Always bring more towels and toilet paper than you think you’ll need: Assign everyone their own towel that they have to use everyday (no grabbing a dry one from the pile!)
  12. Unplug electronics: Hide the televisions and gaming systems, and make a concerted effort to stay off the phones for a set time each day. Bring board games and decks of cards or trivia games. 
  13. Have a “Plan B” in case of inclement weather: Again, board games and cards come in handy, and most locations will have a bowling alley, arcade, or indoor playground (often at malls) for the younger kids. 
  14. Consider creating a memento, or purchasing a souvenir, for everyone to bring home: Holiday ornaments or a fridge magnet of a group photo are inexpensive mementos and make for great collections overtime. Sometimes, a group activity can garner the best memento (think of aprons for a group cooking class, or t-shirts for a family photo).  Also see #9 and #10 for ideas. 
  15. Bring a first aid kit: Put someone in charge of bringing a box of band-aids, various sunscreens, cooling gels, and ice packs. 

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  1. These are excellent tips for planning a family reunion! I especially like the tip about the number of bathrooms – that’s smart to avoid arguments! I also love the tip about avoiding hangriness – I eat quite early compared to most people so often risk getting hangry when mealtimes are pushed back! It’s also a great excuse to have snacks on hand! Thanks for the tips!

  2. These are some quite thoughtful ideas. I think one way to insure sufficient food and schedule would be to have the reunion on a cruise ship (if budget allows). This works, at least for small reunions as it can also covers some anchor activities.

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