Planning a Family Destination Reunion
What better way to gather loved ones than at a family reunion? Whether your family is large or small, consider getting help from the start by calling in the experts. Travel agents can take care of details ranging from recommending appropriate destinations to arranging for airline tickets, and making hotel or car rental reservations.

They are well acquainted with cruise ships and resorts that specialize in family travel. Travel agents can help families with last minute itinerary changes and cancelled flights, as well as arranging for family members with special needs. For large groups, a travel agent may have access to pre-negotiated airfare and hotel rates otherwise unavailable. And, a travel agent can serve as a friendly and patient third party to help prod those family members who may not be quick to decide on travel plans.

Planning a family reunion can become complicated, especially a large reunion involving lots of people. Experienced reunion planners recommend that families begin planning up to two years in advance.

» Allow time for your guests to plan. Give them enough advance notice to adjust their own schedules in order to attend. If you are planning a reunion that involves traveling long distances, or an adventure like a cruise or a trip out of the country, many family members may need time to save money and make special arrangements for extended leave from work.

» Be prepared for guests who require special consideration. Everyone has different needs and it is important to the success of your event to be aware of those needs and have adequate time to plan accordingly. Disabled guests may need special equipment or accommodations. Others may need to arrange for pet care. Whatever the circumstances, leave yourself enough time to ensure suitable arrangements can be made to accommodate everyone.

Picking a date that works for everyone can be one of the most difficult-but one of the most important-steps in planning a family reunion.

» Avoid the obvious busy times of the year. Try not to schedule your family reunion on major holidays, or during prom and graduation season.

» Ask for suggestions and select a date that will work for everyone.

» Communicate plans to host a family reunion far enough in advance that attendees will be able to avoid conflicting events.

» Avoid changing the date. Once you announce the date to family members, they will immediately begin planning other activities around it. Changing the date mid-stream, even once, will affect everyone and some guests may be forced to cancel.

By communicating your plans to organize a family reunion early, your guests will have adequate time to plan to attend, and you can generate interest in catching up with family and creating new family memories at the reunion.

» Distribute a newsletter. A reunion newsletter is an excellent way to keep the family up-to-date on the planning process, who will be attending and what activities are planned.

» Use e-mail to keep guests informed and interested. E-mail is an inexpensive way to maintain communications with reunion guests and provides an easy way for guests to ask questions and provide feedback.

» Solicit ideas from guests. To keep everyone involved and excited about attending the reunion, allow family members the opportunity to submit ideas for planned activities, venues and menu options.

Family reunions are unique in that they can involve people from all over the world, each with different interests. Your guests may span up to four generations and it is important to consider ages and physical limitations when planning activities. Grandparents may not want to participate in activities like scuba diving or water-skiing. Likewise, children may not enjoy ballroom dancing or a mahjong tournament.

» Consider holding the family reunion on a cruise ship or at an all-inclusive resort. Each offers entertainment options for every generation and can take much of the stress out of planning activities around varying interests.

» Ask your guests. Since they will likely have different interests, you will be better able to plan activities if you know what they enjoy doing.

» Choose a venue that is large enough to accommodate activities for everyone and offers a variety of things to do.

The best reward for organizing a large get-together is being able to enjoy the day when it arrives. Planning a family reunion can be a stressful endeavor. Ask for help so it does not become so burdensome that you are not able to spend time with your guests and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

» Recruit helping hands. One way to ensure you have time to enjoy the reunion is to recruit willing family members to take care of last minute details. You will be surprised how much help is available if you just ask.

dentify a reunion theme that connects all family members. Shared experiences and memories are a powerful source of unity for any group. Organize your reunion around a theme that everyone in your family can relate to. Family ancestry, a milestone such as a golden anniversary, or even a sports or cultural event can serve as common thread. Be creative.

Plan activities that focus on the commonalities that family members share. Activities that reinvigorate cherished family moments strengthen bonds. A table displaying old family photographs, a night of swapping stories about colorful deceased relatives, photo albums or videos of key family events, or games that require deep knowledge of the family's past are only a few ways to blend the family together.

Elicit input from everyone who is going to attend about time, place, and activities. This gives all the family members a sense of ownership for the reunion rather than simply being an attendee. It makes the planning process an integral part of the reunion, extending it, and getting everyone to interact, well beyond the time that everyone spends together.

Consider enlisting the help of a professional reunion planner. While every family member's reunion suggestions should be heard, a non-family member such as a travel agent or cruise planner, can offer non-biased expertise about the range of experiences suitable to a family's particular interests. It makes the planning more fair and avoids the possibility of plans made in anyone's self interest at the expense of others.

Recognize that there may be some pre-reunion jitters and take steps to help curtail them. For some, uncertainty about what to expect at the reunion, about how they are remembered, about how people have changed, or about how they might fit in can create some anxiety. Plan activities that allow everyone to feel like an important part of the family and let people know beforehand about these plans.

Develop some activities that require that family members work together and to depend upon each other to complete the task. Besides shared experiences, another way to build unity is through interdependence. Regardless of peoples' differences, completing a task together, such as planning a meal, playing on the same team during a game, making a family skit, or working together on any project creates a sense of accomplishment and togetherness.

Don't underestimate the importance of planning, organization, and structure. The research clearly indicates that successful family reunions don't just happen. A survey of readers of Reunions Magazine found that the highest levels of satisfaction at the end of a reunion were reported by people who said that their reunions were the most planned, structured, and organized. Painstaking planning is proven to pay off!

With input from everyone, make important decisions, rules and boundaries prior to the reunion. All of us have lifestyles and daily living patterns that make sense in our own adult lives and families, but these might be different from other adults in the reuniting family. It's essential that rules for daily living be discussed and compromises be reached prior to the reunion rather than during the reunion.