You've undoubtedly heard about destination weddings, but what about destination reunions? That's right: Pulling up the family roots from that comfortable lakeside cabin or well-worn backyard and shipping everyone off somewhere new.
It's the family plus vacation, and the end result can be a massive disaster—or the reunion everyone will be talking about for years to come. Here are some top tips for making yours a success.
1. Nail down the dates
If you think it's hard to find time for your family to take a vacation, try coordinating schedules for dozens of people. Give yourself plenty of lead time (like, a year), and start by locking in the dates for your reunion. Pro-tip: Don't deviate once the decision is made. After you set the date, you can work out all the other logistics.
Each family should choose a representative for a planning committee, so everyone's input is heard and considered without getting too many voices involved in the detailed conversation. It's also a good idea to put one or two people in charge of this committee to set deadlines, delegate tasks and make sure all the details are addressed. Meet regularly as a committee, even if it is through Skype, and create an online space to keep the conversation going between calls. Share Google documents so everyone has access to pertinent information throughout the process.
At some point, it may be helpful to assign specific tasks to certain committee members, such as managing accommodation details and coordinating meals.
3. Decide on a destination
Based on the dates you've chosen, it's time to choose a destination. Assess what everyone in the family wants to do. Let every family come up with a few destination ideas, keeping in mind budget, travel logistics and activities that are suitable for a range of ages.
All-inclusive resorts and cruises can be good options for a wide selection of family-friendly activities. Ski resorts can be a good option in summer or winter—though they can be pricey during snowy seasons. Nearby beaches and national parks offer good opportunities to relax or enjoy outdoor activities at a more leisurely pace.
4. Choose appropriate accommodations
When choosing good accommodations to house the whole family, make sure there is enough space for everyone, plenty of activities to keep people entertained and appropriate amenities for those who need them (think older folks who may have problems getting up and down stairs and families with young babies who may need loaner cribs).
An all-inclusive option or cruise may be easiest for accommodating a variety of people, but also look into renting a home for your destination family reunion. Rental homes come in a variety of sizes and with a myriad of amenities. Look for one with a game room, hot tub, swimming pool and other diversions—as well as several bedrooms and bathrooms. This is likely to be your least expensive option as well.
Once you start booking accommodations, meals, activities and other trip details, always ask about group discounts.
5. Make a meal plan
Unless you've chosen a destination with meals built in (again, the all-inclusive resorts and cruises may fit into this category), you'll need to think about feeding lots of hungry people. Though you may choose to go out for a meal or two, use flexibility to your advantage by choosing accommodations with a kitchen, so you can prepare many of your own meals. Or hire a catering company (if it fits your reunion budget).
Family gatherings can be wrought with tension and strife, but keep in mind that it is rare for all of you to get together in one place at one time.
Put a committee member in charge of meal planning, but don't let the cooking fall on one person or family. Check in with every family before traveling regarding special dietary needs. Take turns preparing food and cleaning up after each meal.
6. Schedule activities in advance
Though you don't want to plan every minute of every day, don't let your reunion turn into a snooze fest. Plan at least one or two activities that could accommodate most family members every day, such as hiking, golfing, hitting the beach or sledding. Let everybody know how much these activities will cost, bring any necessary items with you that you'll need in order to participate and make reservations if needed in advance. Waiting until you arrive to solidify plans for and with so many people will be nearly impossible.
That said, don't over-plan your reunion either. Leave downtime for small group activities, one-on-one time and plenty of casual encounters for everyone to catch up with each other. Make sure there are diversions for the kids and teenagers as well as the adults once all the little ones have been tucked in for the night.
You may get so caught up planning trip details that you forget commonplace reunion traditions. Even though you're traveling, you can still send everyone home with a gift. Order T-shirts, hats or other family-branded gear early in the planning stages.
Encourage people to bring their favorite photo albums and home videos, and don't forget to have a group photo taken when you're all together. Consider putting someone on the planning committee in charge of creating a digital photo album that everyone can take home as a souvenir.
8. Forgive and forget
Family gatherings can be wrought with tension and strife, but keep in mind that it is rare for all of you to get together in one place at one time. Try to set aside your differences for the duration of your trip and focus on the positive aspects of being together. If necessary, agree to disagree in advance of the reunion.
If there is that particular cousin or uncle who drives you mad, take advantage of the planned activities to mix and mingle with everyone and avoid prolonged periods of time with this single person.
Once the family reunion has come to an end, and everyone has gone home, keep the memories fresh. Start a Facebook group (or something similar) to share photos and stories. And, of course, it's never too early to start kicking around ideas for your next family reunion getaway.