Last year, my extended family, ranging from age 2 to 80, embarked on our first family reunion vacation. Even though we all returned home with cherished memories, there were several things I would definitely do differently the next time. Like, discussing in advance how to distribute the cooking and childcare responsibilities. Or perhaps renting one more car than we thought we needed — to prevent some family members from being stranded, while others went off on day-trips.
After the events of September 11, the travel industry is reporting a surge in multigenerational travel, citing the need for families to bring everyone closer together. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, 25 percent of travelers are planning to attend a family reunion this year. The emerging trend is to hold the reunion in a vacation destination, allowing family members to reconnect in a relaxed setting.
Vacationing with a large group can be a wonderful opportunity for children to establish bonds with far-flung family members. Feeling part of a family is especially important for children because it provides a sense of security in these unsettled times. But, a family reunion can be a lot of work.
If you're planning such a vacation this summer, there are a few
tips to follow that will go a long way in eliminating stress and problems:
• CHOOSE TWO FAMILY MEMBERS AS COORDINATORS
The family should choose someone who's willing to work with all the participants and coordinate the vacation. It's usually better to designate two people, so all the blame won't fall on one person if something goes wrong (inevitably, something will). The coordinator should plan the dates for the vacation, book the lodging, and handle the money for deposits.
• START PLANNING EARLY
A year in advance is not too early to begin planning a family reunion vacation. This gives families plenty of time to schedule the dates around summer camp, school start dates, etc. Some families prefer to plan their reunion vacations around the December holidays; the family can still be together, but no one has the burden of playing host at their own home.
• CONSIDER EVERYONE'S BUDGET
It's always amusing to read about large extended families going on Caribbean cruises or African safaris together. It sounds like fun, but it's way out of most families’ budget ranges. Unless the reunion is centered around a special, once-in-a-lifetime occasion such as a 50th wedding anniversary or a rich uncle is willing to foot the bill, it's better to lean on the side of economical.
One solution is to choose a location where there are a variety of lodging choices, such as a state park offering both cabins and campsites. Other way to lower the cost is to vacation in the shoulder seasons of May and September.
• LODGING OPTIONS
Before you book the lodging, you need to decide which is most important — privacy or cost. Unfortunately, the two usually have an inverse relationship. What you might save in money will probably cost you in terms of privacy. It's certainly cheaper to share the cost of lodging with another family but sometimes it's not worth it if too much togetherness ruins your vacation. Before you put a group together, consider how well the family members will get along together over a period of time. If you have doubts, split everyone up.
In planning for our vacation, we first considered individual condominiums located on the Gulf of Mexico. We liked the idea of each family having their own condo with plenty of privacy and separate cooking facilities. Unfortunately, at $1,000 per unit, per week, the cost was too high. Instead we settled on a huge, five-bedroom, three-bath townhouse. Each family still had their own private bedroom to retreat to when they needed space and the cost dropped to around $300 per family per week. Everyone agreed the savings of over $3,500 was worth giving up a little privacy.
• AGREE ON WORK DETAILS BEFOREHAND
It's easy when families get together for the old family hierarchy to slip back into place. A grandmother who recently vacationed with her children and grandchildren reported back that, "my grown children expected me to do all the cooking and babysitting. They didn't seem to realize I was on vacation too."
When the work is distributed unevenly (and yes, there will be work!), resentment is bound to bubble up in somebody. When a large group gets together, there's always grocery shopping, cooking and childcare to think about. If the family plans to eat meals together, ask everyone to donate a certain amount of money up front for groceries. Then assign each family group a meal to be responsible for preparing and cleaning up afterwards.
Childcare is another issue that can cause problems. While most grandparents cherish the extra time with their grandchildren, don't forget they need some time to themselves, too. Don't assume grandparents will want to stay home babysitting the children every night while the other adults go out to dinner. Be considerate and ask first before handing over the kids.
With so many families living far apart, family reunion vacations may be the only opportunity during the year for members to be together. Even though it takes a little work to ensure a smooth vacation, it's well worth the effort.