Ask Trip Coach: Family Reunions

From choosing the ideal destination to deciding how to divvy up costs, consider this your go-to guide for planning a more-perfect reunion.

By Brad Tuttle, Tuesday, Apr 20, 2010, 12:00 AM

Ask Trip Coach (Illustration by Chris Gash)

READERS' TOP QUESTIONS

How in the world do we decide where to go?
As with all things family, the key word is compromise. The goal is to find a place that will make 15 or (Lord help you) 50 very different people happy. First step: Include everyone. Throw out 10 possibilities in a group e-mail, rank them, and see what rises to the top. That's your winner.

Second step: Keep your eyes on the prize. This is a reunion, and the best destinations have broad appeal (see eight of our suggestions on the following page). A range of activities and distractions (golf, spas, hiking) is essential; the toddlers aren't going to want to play 18 holes every day, and Aunt Myrtle probably isn't up for scaling a rock face. The best options need to be budget sensitive. The most expensive part of any trip tends to be lodging, so consider destinations that allow you to tackle it creatively—sharing rooms, splitting up among hotels of varying star levels, renting one big house. Whatever you decide, establish a central place where folks can gather casually over coffee or corn on the cob.

Any suggestions on divvying up costs and duties?
Remember in The Godfather when the five families come together to work things out? Do that. Gather household heads and hammer out who's in charge of what and how everything will be paid for. Try to foresee complications (Who gets the master suite? Shouldn't they pay more?) and come to a fair arrangement ahead of time.

A suggestion for one of the murkiest areas: food costs. Have each family put $50 or $100 into a reserve that will go toward basics (ketchup, eggs, bread, ice pops, Diet Coke). Then, because we all know what too many cooks can do to the soup, put each family in charge of one night's dinner for the entire group, including shopping and paying for whatever's on the menu. Everyone else gets that night off.

Above all, be clear about little details, every step of the way. It may seem anal, but spelling everything out will help your group avoid confusion, resentment, and the very real possibility of somebody dropping the ball on something as important as making dinner.

How do we prevent tensions from flaring up and, at the same time, make the reunion actually fun?
If there's one golden rule for family reunions, it's this: Don't overschedule. One group activity per day, max. The goal is to create memories—the good kind. Since the kids will probably be the most entertaining part of the vacation, ask them to put on a talent show, host a dance contest, or act out every part in the circus. They'll have fun, and—most important for the adults—they'll be occupied for days. If you're staying in a place with a private gathering room, throw a party there. Fill tables with snacks and family albums. Seeing as you're on location, take advantage of your numbers (group rate!) to do something vacation-y: Charter a boat to a secluded island for a picnic, for example, or book a guide to take you on a hike in the rain forest near your resort.

PLANNING TOOLS

Facebook.com
Start your pre-trip conversation here. Post-reunion, use the site to share photos and relive memories.

Groople.com
Book dozens of hotel rooms and flights at once, often at a discount, and dig through tons of destination ideas and planning tips.

Ciaobambino.com
Find hotels where the rooms are baby-proofed, the properties have jungle gyms, and the activities won't be deemed lame by teenagers.

Familyreunion.com
Investigate locations, themes, games, food, budgeting, and any other reunion-related topics.

SANITY SAVERS
When your reunion starts to feel more like an endurance test than a vacation, try one of these four increasingly strong prescriptions.

Yoga It's amazing what 20 minutes of stretching can do to your outlook.

Cell phone Call a friend. Fake a call from "work."

Reality TV Watch families far more dysfunctional than yours.

Xanax With a doctor's prescription, naturally...

YOUR REUNION COUNTDOWN

1 to 2 years out Send out initial inquiry to see who's interested

9 months to 1 year out Discuss, settle on destination

6 to 9 months out Tally a head count, make lodging reservations

4 to 6 months out Buy plane tickets

3 to 4 months out Circulate info on possible activities

2 months out Book activities (ask for a group rate)

1 month out Get a final-final head count, adjust reservations

1 week out Reconfirm reservations, finalize plans for getting to airport

1 day out Pray for good weather

A PLACE FOR EVERYONE