How to Plan a Stress-Free Family Reunion Trip

It’s the day before Thanksgiving.  Are you on your way to a nice ski resort, beach town, or vacation rental somewhere right now to reunite with your family?  Or are you squirreled away in your study, blogging and surfing so you don’t have to think about who’s coming tonight or tomorrow — or who’s already taking up too much space in your house?  Maybe your family travel plans didn’t work out — or you didn’t even try going somewhere special with your relatives because none of you could agree on where to go, to do what, and when.

Is it hard to plan a great family reunion trip?  It’s definitely a challenge — but it can be one of the most enjoyable things you do all year.  So if Thanksgiving is a lost cause by now and you think it’s a minor miracle that you and a few other members of your family even managed to show up on a relative’s door (or vice versa), remember, there’s time to plan a great reunion trip for Christmas — one that won’t lead you to your mother-in-law’s bathroom cabinet in search of Xanax.  Read on.

Get an Early Start.  Find out who’s interested in a family reunion, and if they can get time off for Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s. You might consider setting up a Facebook page and inviting family members on to discuss their availability.  Once you set a date, do everything you can not to change it, both to 1) avoid hassles with making changes to reservations, and 2) reinforce that this reunion trip will be taking place, no matter how much the cynics in your kin are doubting it.

One-near certainty: not everyone will be able to make it.  Anticipate four out of five relatives being able to join in.   Remember, that’s a lot better than 0 out of five if your uncle convinces you to shoot down the whole idea just because he’ll be in Vegas for Christmas.

Decide Who’s Invited.  Lay ground rules early on about invitation of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. to a family reunion.  Smaller families may be able to invite this “extended family” without hassle; larger families, probably not.

Decide Where You’re Going.  This is probably the trickiest part.  Who decides where you go?  The composition of your family helps dictate what you pick.  If the average age in your family is under 30, you’re looking less at a cabin in the woods than at a place where there’s plenty of entertainment nearby.  If half your family is from the Midwest, they might jump at the idea of a couple of apartment rentals on the beach — no matter how cold the water is.

The average age in my family is about 50 years old, and most of them are Irish (as in straight from Dublin and Galway), so… we usually end up in Reno, Nevada in front of a lot of slot machines.  Top o’ the Christmas morning to everyone!

Delegate.  If you’ve come up with the idea for a family reunion trip, then you’ve already contributed a great part and should expect family members, young and old, to help coordinate.  Go back to your reunion Facebook page and identify who can make what reservations, logistics, etc.  Since everyone has web access, no one should stick the “local” family members with most of the work.

Be Patient with the Armchair Travelers in Your Family.  Some of your relatives may be such homebodies that they aren’t even going to realize they need a pet-sitter until a couple days before they leave — or they might not even remember to ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for their house while they’re gone.  Identify who in your brood is more headcase than suitcase, and give them some tips so they don’t bail at the last minute and disappoint their kids — or yours.

Don’t Expect Everyone to do Everything Together.  Part of the beauty of planning a family reunion at a place other than one of your houses is that everyone has a different place to explore.  If you book some cabins at a ski resort for the week, for example, don’t be surprised if some family members skip out on supper to have some more time on the slopes.  If everyone is having a good time, then family reunions will lose their groan-inducing capacity and you’re more likely to see your happy relatives next year, and the year after that.   So don’t take down your Facebook family reunion travel page after the holidays — and be thankful that we have so many different, beautiful places to go with our loved ones.


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