By Margot Slade
Consider the virtues of a family reunion: Compared with visiting your relatives individually, it’s less stressful on the body (fewer planes, trains, automobiles), pocketbook (again the planes, trains, automobiles) and mind: You’re not wedded — some might say beholden — to the same person or group for hours or days.
Family reunions, by definition, involve one destination, a single set of travel plans, and a range of take-them, leave them, or flit among them social groups and dynamics. You can even spend time alone — doing something that you alone want to do —without losing the pleasure of your family’s company the rest of the day or night.
I say these things from experience, having helped my far-flung extended family of 21 (and growing) plan several gatherings over the years. Here are some guidelines if you’d like to engineer your own.
The basic approach:
- Imagine that you’re creating a family-run Bed-and-Breakfast for 7 to 10 days, with people booking as much time as they want or can within those 7 to 10 days.
- Think of yourself as an enabler — but of the very best kind. You want to enable as many family members as possible to come.
- Remember that the point is spending time together, not vacationing in the U.S. or abroad.
- With that in mind, try to ensure that on at least one night, everyone can be there together.
The basic arrangement:
- Family members will be charged using a day rate. (That’s the cost of lodgings divided by the number of booked days. Add a flat fee for a continental breakfast every morning and an estimated cost for a home-made supper every night.) In our family, apportioning costs among 16-plus people has made every gathering affordable.
- Bring or buy a chalkboard or whiteboard along with jigsaw puzzles and large-group games. Every morning, write on the board what different groups propose doing that day, or what’s happening locally. Over breakfast, people can decide what they’d like to do or who they’d like to join, and how to arrange carpooling or public transportation. Evenings will be spent enjoying each other’s company while prepping and eating supper. (And don’t forget those puzzles and games.)
- Bring or buy the makings of simple no-cook breakfasts that people say they like, including tea and coffee (decaf and not). Again, you’re creating a personal B&B.
- Assign each family responsibility for a supper (or two). Everyone else is encouraged to help.
- It must be someplace accessible to the person who lives farthest away and affordable by the person who can least afford to travel.
- It must offer activities for the youngest and oldest among you. Our widest age range was 8 months to 80 years. Activities included: a park, playground, garden, beach, and history museum to visit; historic sites to explore; fly fishing; a brass band that performed on the village green, and family-owned shops where we could buy food for supper.
- Your lodgings need to accommodate the largest number of people who will be there at any one time. You can find accommodations online through a number of websites, including AirBnb and Vrbo, and, for the U.K. and Europe, Kate & Tom’s, Oliver’s Travels, and The Landmark Trust (a charity that rescues historic buildings and makes them available for self-catered holidays). Our best U.K. find was a house on a working farm where we could help but didn’t have to (until the sheep broke through a fence and turned the next two hours into a hilarious all-hands-on-deck).
Choosing when: Pick a month during which everyone should be able to take even an extended weekend off. For us that’s generally meant June through mid-September or around winter holidays. You’ll narrow the dates once you’ve asked people about coming.
Compile an invite list that’s not so expansive as to be impractical; not so restrictive as to make anyone feel left out. Inviting your two favorite second cousins? Nope. Invite none or the whole second-cousin gang. Figure that your 90+ years young relatives can’t walk well and would have a lousy time? Don’t decide for them. This is an “opt out” event.
As for folks you haven’t seen in years or with whom you’re not close, think of this as an opportunity to reconnect — if only for a moment — to learn about each other and your shared history. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Margot Slade is a contributing editor at Everyday Health, a leading digital provider of consumer health and wellness content. A former senior editor at The New York Times, She’s served as Editor-in-Chief of Consumer Reports, a Global Managing Editor at Bloomberg News, and in content leadership positions at digital startups and other established media brands. She has adult twins and a British husband who’s a professional chef/caterer — yes, she married a man who cooks — and enjoys swimming, horseback riding, hiking, singing, dancing, and planning travel adventures and visits with far-flung friends and family.
Throughout the “Sandwich Years” section of this blog, we will provide you support for launching children into adulthood while caring for aging parents.