How to Plan a Successful Family Reunion

By Candyce H. Stapen

How to Plan a Family Reunion

It takes planning, preparation and flexibility to make family reunions successful instead of stressful. Many reunion mavens suggest that it’s best to begin the process at least six months in advance, or even better, give your extended family a year’s notice. You’ll also want to consider the more invitations you plan to send out, the more lead time you’ll need to find a date and location that makes everyone happy.

But even if you have less time to plan, it’s still possible to put together a satisfying family reunion. You’ll just need to appoint an organizer and start the process as quickly as possible.

Biggers isn’t always better. Like sovereign nations, each branch of the family comes with its own preferences, peccadillos and schedules to plan around. The smaller the group, the easier it is to come to a consensus on a date and destination, and then book your family vacation rental during this popular getaway time. If you’re set on casting a wide net, make sure to plan as far in advance and ask everyone to be as flexible as possible.

Link to an already scheduled family event. “Consider tagging the reunion onto the end of something that’s already been planned—a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, anniversary celebration,” says Dr. Jeff Bauman, a child and family psychologist in Weston, Florida. Since the extended family is already gathered together, adding a reunion event minimizes additional transportation and lodging costs.

Pick a place big enough to accommodate everyone’s needs. Three children, two adult siblings (and their spouses) and one set of grandparents can fit into a four- or five-bedroom villa or condo. Don’t overload the lodging. If more relatives head to the homecoming, then book two or more rental units. No one ever complained about too much space or too many bathrooms.

The best option for hosting everyone under the same roof is a big rental home. In many places you can book houses next to each other, so you and your family can be close by.  

Make sure there’s enough time together and apart. Consider a family reunion as a multigenerational trip on steroids. The same rules apply, but they cover more family members. Don’t over plan. Organize group welcome and farewell dinners and possibly one or two please-all events, such as a beach day or a forest walk. The rest is free time. “You want to make sure that everyone has time to be separate from each other, “ says Dr. Bauman. “You put a lot of relatives in a room together (many of whom may not have seen each other for some time), add alcohol and you could have a lot of tension. There has to be time for everyone to have his or her own space.”

Limit arguments by discussing essentials before booking. Don’t assume that blood is thicker than family feuds. Decide ahead of time how childcare will be shared; who sleeps in the master suite and who gets the bunk beds; and how rental fees and food costs will be apportioned (equally by the number of families, by a per person rate or by some other system).

Don’t assume there won’t be disagreements. Stuff happens. “See the inevitable differences of opinion that arise during the planning as an opportunity to learn the art of communication, negotiation, assertiveness and respectful compromise in the presence of people whom you care about,” says Dr. Brad Sachs, a child and family psychologist in Columbia, Md.

Get a jump on the next family reunion. Survey the family to find out what they thought about the reunion and what they may want the next time around. It will make everyone feel heard and help ease planning for the following get together.

Visit to book your next family reunion.

Long-time family travel guru Candyce H. Stapen writes for many publications and outlets. She has written 30 travel guidebooks, including two for National Geographic.