With families scattered all over the country — and sometimes even the world — reunions are more important than ever. Whether it’s a long weekend at a relative’s home or a tropical getaway, these events give families a chance to reconnect and make priceless memories. Planning these gatherings, though, can be a challenge. That’s where our ABC planning guide comes in. Follow these tips, and the whole process becomes more manageable, allowing everyone to focus on what really matters — time together.
Arrange details in advance.
Success or failure is in the details. Allow six months to a year for planning, and be sure you know exactly what you’ll need for and from each member of the family. If you have a particularly large group, or if you’re booking flights or vacation rentals, you’ll find better choices and rates if you book early.
Balance the budget.
Whether it’s a low-key backyard barbecue, a weekend in a national park, or a week-long stay at an exotic resort, you’ll need to figure out the costs involved and how they’ll be divided. You may need to charge a reunion fee to help cover the costs of mailers, phone calls, and other expenses. Handling payments for travel arrangements can be stressful, and you don’t want to be chasing late-payers for cash or getting stuck with a big bill. One option is to have everyone book their own travel, taking the pressure off the group organizer and allowing greater flexibility for individuals. Arrange for a group booking number at the hotel or venue so everyone can pay at their convenience.
Choose a CEO (chief event organizer).
The job is to ensure that everyone’s efforts are coordinated for maximum efficiency. The CEO should help to research destinations and the price of accommodations and food, keep the group informed and — most importantly — delegate responsibility so it’s clear who is responsible for each element needed to make the reunion a success.
Design a website.
The best way to communicate with relatives near and far? Launch a simple webpage to keep everyone in the loop. It’s more efficient than endless emails and phone calls. You might want to set up a special Facebook page or use a site like Triporama.com, which allows families to vote on key decisions and see the latest news in one convenient place.
Easy does it.
Summers are popular, and long weekends are best for family reunions, especially when children are involved. Start by picking three dates for the group to vote on. (Any more and it becomes overwhelming.) If you can’t find a date when a majority of your group is available, try again with three new dates.
Find a fair spot.
Find a location that’s equidistant for almost everyone, or select a dazzling destination that makes globetrotters of you all. You’ll also want a place that has activities for all ages. National parks are great sites for families who enjoy outdoor activities and, of course, cruises and theme parks are great options if you have the resources. To find a national park near you, go to nps.gov.
Grab group discounts.
No matter your plans, there’s a deal out there that can help you to do more with your money. Devote some time to researching discounts for your event. Start with organizations such as AAA.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. Hire sitters or a nanny service to watch the kids if you plan on having dinners or evening activities that go well into the night. Consider occasional catering to take pressure off the family cooks, or just hire two or three individuals to help serve and clean. Find a tour guide who can show you around an area that may not be familiar to you. If the reunion commemorates a milestone birthday or anniversary — or if your family is rarely all in one place — consider hiring a professional photographer or videographer.
While it’s important to have one person at the helm, the workload needs to be divided. Delegate responsibility for ensuring the group has transportation, accommodations, activities, food, and incidentals. The bigger the group, the more organization you’ll need.
Jump for joy!
With the work involved and the tension that family gatherings can sometimes inspire, there may be moments when you lose sight of your purpose. Take a deep breath and remember: This is a happy event. Let the little things go and rejoice in the knowledge that you have a family that wants to spend time together. Not everyone is so blessed.
Keep it simple.
Reunions can be pricey and travel costs can add up. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable by choosing a luxury spot that you know not everyone can afford. Find a nice place with a discount that puts it within everyone’s price range. You probably won’t ever be able to please everyone, but it’s better to ask people with more to spend less than to risk overextending those whose budgets may already be strained.
Locate local experts.
Contact the area’s local visitor bureau and tourism board for help with party venues, restaurants, hotels, and local attractions and activities. They’re almost always staffed by people who genuinely want you to enjoy your visit to their hometown and will give you invaluable insider tips. They may help you save money, too.
It bears repeating: this get-together is about spending time with people you love who love you right back. Relax and enjoy one another’s company. Share family stories and record them for posterity. You can post the videos on your website for everyone to enjoy. Family members also can post photos and stories of the event. Consider using a service like Blurb to translate these impressions into a hardcover book, which may be especially appreciated by those who wanted to attend but weren’t able to, or those who aren’t Internet savvy.
Never say no to a reasonable request.
Aunt Gina wants to bring her homemade cookies that taste like rocks? Accept them graciously and put them on the dessert table. Cousin JoJo fancies herself the next American Idol but sounds like Alvin the Chipmunk? Paste smiles on your faces and let her be a star for the duration of a song. Make family time fun for everyone, and reunions will get bigger and better with each passing year.
Order more and order bigger.
If you have a family reunion fund, consider creating a family logo and ordering hats and T-shirts as souvenirs. When you place the order, keep in mind that someone will always want an extra hat or T-shirt, and chances are, after a day or week of relaxing and enjoying delicious favorite family foods, they’ll want a bigger size.
Perfection is overrated.
Accept that no matter how carefully you plan, things probably won’t go perfectly. It may rain when you’d hoped for sun. The kids may fall in the mud. A dog may overturn the dessert table. A skunk may decide to crash the party. Unless they involve danger or physical injury, laugh at unexpected complications. If it will be funny later, it’s probably funny now.
Quit while you’re ahead.
Resist the urge to cram every moment of the reunion with activity. Family time is lovely but it can be intense, too, and everyone will appreciate having some downtime.
Remember it may rain.
Have a back-up plan in case it rains, and make sure everyone knows what it is.
Share and share alike.
Share the responsibilities for making the arrangements and for cleaning up afterward. Share the food, the fun, and the laughter. Share the photos and the stories of your time together.
Take time to be grateful.
Hand in hand with sharing the day is gratitude for having the opportunity to do so. In the middle of the hubbub, don’t forget to take a deep breath, look around, and think how lucky you are to be part of this crazy, imperfectly perfect tribe you call family.
Use a travel agent.
A good travel agent will give you an inside track to the best deals and alert you to last-minute problems you might no know about otherwise. Agents can also track and manage payments being made. They also have access to perks and amenities you might not otherwise be able to secure.
Veer from the program if need be.
After so much prep work, it’s natural to want to adhere to The Plan, but everyone will enjoy their time together more if there’s also room for spontaneity. If you see that the game of kickball is a bust, be willing to move on. It never hurts to have plans B and C in mind “just in case,” but be prepared to let things unfold in completely unexpected ways, too.
Waste not, want not.
Beach barbecue? Park picnic? In addition to ensuring you have any permits you may need, please be good stewards of the environment. Make sure that all the trash is collected and that recyclables are separated from other trash.
Explain it all to the technophobes.
It’s great if you have website or if most of the family is on Facebook. But remember that some older relatives may not be as wired as the rest of the family. Make sure they still get all the important reunion news the old-fashioned way, like in a phone call.
You’re supposed to enjoy your time together.
It bears repeating: The purpose of any reunion is to strengthen the ties that bind. It should be fun for everyone, and that means you, too. Give yourself the time and space to really enjoy the kids’ hijinks, the grown-ups’ camaraderie, and, hopefully, the delicious food.
Zap feuds quickly.
Every family has its drama. Try to see to it that well-known inflammatory topics aren’t introduced. And if an old argument should reappear, defuse the situation quickly: Have a joke at the ready; put recognized family peacemakers on alert; send the squabblers to separate corners to simmer down; or bring the kids in to distract everyone from the tension. Do all you can to make sure that the memories everyone carries away from the event are happy ones.
Get more advice for bringing families together from Considerable.com: