Now that more and more families live farther apart, family reunions are more important than ever! We have no family nearby, so planning family reunions, or just ANY trips, with our extended family, is the only way we can ensure our kids get to know their cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Plus, add in great-grandparents, second cousins, and more, and we have a LOT of trips with extended families that need to make it on to our calendar.
And planning trips with a larger group, especially a multi-generational group, is tricky! With so many age groups, interests, budgets, energy levels, and schedules, it can feel impossible to get everyone in the same place at the same time. But, it can be done. And it can be memorable and amazing! With these great tips, you’ll be sure to plan an unforgettable family trip!
Perhaps the first consideration when planning your family reunion is budget. Before you even begin planning, it’s best to at least get SOME idea what the budget will be.
We like to err on the side of a lower budget when it comes to family reunion trips. It’s impossible for you to know the financial position of EVERYone in your group. Unless you are planning to pay the bill, asking family members to stay at a 5-star resort may end up putting a ton of pressure on them to spend more than they can really afford. If you can, get an idea of what everyone’s budget is, and be respectful of that number.
While we think you can plan a trip that everyone in your family is going to love, some members might feel like larger group trips mean a compromise on how they’d PREFER to spend their vacation. Since you can’t possibly plan a trip that will be the ideal vacation for every member of your family, some members might feel like they are spending a lot of money on something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen (by the time the vacation is over, I bet they’ll be singing a different tune, but we’ll get to that later).
Choosing a location for your family reunion is going to be impacted by the budget BIG TIME. But there are a lot of other considerations as well.
Think about any travel limitations family members might have. For example, my sister has 4 kids, and flying is painfully expensive for her, so they prefer not to. BUT they are great road trippers. My family – we hate road trips. Anything over 6 hours, we’ll definitely fly. So picking somewhere close to us isn’t that important. And, my 94-year-old grandmother – she’s simply too old to travel very far at all. So if we want to see her, we need to go to her.
Time of year
When you are traveling with a bigger group, finding a free week for EVERYONE is likely going to be next to impossible. You might end up with one or two weeks in the YEAR that works for everyone. So you you’ll just have to work with whatever you’ve got and make the most of it.
Since we live pretty far north, by the time spring break rolls around, we are DEFINITELY ready to seek out some warmer weather. And sometimes, mid-winter, we start craving some serious snow (since we barely get snow). In the summer, we are pretty much happy to go anywhere- near, or far since we are getting sun at home. So think about the time of year you’ll be traveling, and what type of experience you’ll be craving.
What is available
Sometimes, I plan a trip just based on which location has exactly what I’m looking for. Maybe it’s a fantastic resort. Maybe a cruise port. Maybe the coolest rental house I’ve ever seen. And it’s just as good a reason to go somewhere as any.
Another major consideration when planning your family reunion are the interests and kind of the overall personality of the group. And the tough part is you are likely going to have major differences in interests, vacation style, and activity level. Without careful planning, you might find that your family group ends up taking completely separate vacations at the same physical location. With everyone heading out to do their favorite thing, you might end up only see the entire group a few minutes a day!
But if you plan carefully, you’ll truly get the time to connect and enjoy your family, while still getting out to do the things you love. When it comes to planning for a great trip for everyone, it’s bound to be a bit of an iterative process.
My process is to pick a starting point for a location, then scan through each family member, and think through some of the things they might enjoy. Are there any? Are there activities that will work well with a group? For example, are you going to be staying next to a great hiking area where your nephew will love going out for 12-mile hikes every day, but no one else will be able to keep up with him? Maybe not a great choice. But maybe there are a number of great short hikes, that are more well suited to younger, or older, family members.
Find a couple of great group activities that EVERYONE in your group can enjoy. Sometimes it’ll bump you out of your comfort zone a little bit and you might just end up having the time of your life!
Where to stay
Where you choose to stay has a huge impact on the success of your vacation! I don’t mean that you need it to be in a super luxurious place – you just want something that is perfectly laid out for your group. There are a few things you’ll want to consider while planning your next family reunion:
- Can you comfortably dine together? For my family, mealtimes, especially dinners are important. So when we all travel to see each other, we want to make sure we can eat at least one meal a day together.
- Is there ENOUGH space? Let’s face it – 12 adults just do not want to be sharing one bathroom. We don’t mind squeezing in a little bit, but not having enough space, getting quality sleep, and always worrying about bathroom availability is not going to make your trip great.
- Are there things to do nearby? With a variety of ages, some members of your group are going to opt-out of some activities. It’s nice if the activities are close so you don’t end up completely isolating members of your group. Staying on a beach or near a pool is fantastic because anyone who needs to head in for a break will be able to come out and rejoin the group whenever he or she is ready.
Vacation Rentals – One Big House
Booking a big house for your group on VRBO, Vacasa, or AirBnB is a really wonderful option for your family reunion. For groups up to about 15, you’ll find plenty of fantastic rental house options with 5 or more bedrooms. Larger groups of 20 or more might have a more difficult time, but it never hurts to take a look. Larger vacation rentals often have big, spacious kitchens, bunk rooms for the kids, and lots of space to comfortably relax.
With a single large house, you’ll have tons of space to chat, have meals together, and, if you have younger kids and you are very lucky – you might even get some free babysitting (and a minute of free time!) thanks to grandparents or aunts or uncles. The great thing about this option is that, even if everyone’s daily plan doesn’t always match up, you are sure to be constantly bumping into everyone in your group!
- large spaces to hang out as a group
- large vacation rentals often have more amenities (you might find a rental with a private pool, sports equipment free to use such as kayaks, paddleboards, bikes, and more, game room, large chef’s kitchens, etc.)
- Cooking is easy, so you’ll save money on eating out
- Typically laundry facilities are available so you can pack lighter
- May not have a lot of privacy with the potential for shared bathrooms, and shared common areas
- Can be difficult to find houses large enough for larger groups
- Can be noisy, making early bedtimes and early wakeups for little ones a bit difficult for the group
- Communal food can be a little bit tricky
- no daily cleaning service or hotel amenities
Vacation Rentals – Multiple smaller condos
On the other hand, if you are the type of family that needs a bit more privacy (even from your extended family), you might find the larger shared home to be a bit overwhelming. While there may be plenty of SHARED space, you are not likely to have much private space at all. If this describes your family, you might consider multiple units in a condo complex.
Renting several units at the same property might feel KIND of like staying at a hotel. But, condos typically have kitchens, and a bit more living space. Though each living space is not likely to be HUGE, you will have enough space to invite others over. If you choose, one individual family can choose to host the entire group, or a subgroup for dinner one evening. Then the next night, a different individual family can host, and rotate through. That way, you’ll still be getting lots of family time without cramping anyone’s style.
- Privacy for each individual family unit
- Condo units are typically easy to find
- Can work for extremely large families or groups
- Easier for individual families to maintain their own sleep and activity schedule
- Kitchen means saving money on eating out
- No large group space
- Units may not be right next to each other
- Units may be all the same size, so they may not work for each individual family unit
- no daily cleaning service or hotel amenities
Staying at a mega-resort for your family reunion can be so great because there is a little bit for everyone. Maybe golfing for grandpa, a great swimming pool for the kids, and some amazing restaurants for their foodie aunt. And when you are ready to get together, a quick loop around the resort will usually be enough to round up the group.
Cruises obviously have some very BIG differences compared to resorts, but the basic idea is the same. Everyone in your group can spend their time getting out to do whatever excites them on the ship, or on an excursion, with plenty of opportunities to hang out during the day as well. Additionally, each evening, you can have dinner together as a group. Just make sure everyone in your party has their reservations linked so that you can all be seated together.
- Daily cleaning service
- Meals are all prepared for you, so no one needs to spend time cooking or washing dishes
- Tons of activities and things to do for everyone
- The convenience fee for having EVERYTHING in one spot can be pretty high. So staying at these amazing resorts can easily bust the budget for many families
- With larger crowds, it can be difficult to find a comfortable space for a larger group to gather
- Even if you are able to find a space, it won’t be private (and probably not quiet either).
After doing quite a few larger family vacations, I have to say our absolute FAVORITE type of family vacation is at a large vacation rental house on the lake, as long as there is a great beach!
Reasons a lake house is amazing for a family reunion (or group trip of any kind)
The Large house is fantastic for a bigger group. Perhaps you’ll be a bit crowded, but with family (or close friends), we don’t mind giving up a bit of privacy in favor of some extra time together. Big, shared kitchens are perfect for preparing big meals together. We divide up the work, with everyone taking one night to make a great meal for the group. Then no one feels overwhelmed by all the cooking and cleaning.
A big house also means lots of built in babysitters. My husband and I can go for a little kayak ride together and we have tons of people that will happily watch our kids for a bit, and no advanced planning required! Or, if I need to run in and go to the bathroom or something, I don’t have to force my kids to leave the beach, or panic that something could happen since there are tons of eyes watching out for them.
My kids go to bed early, so in a big shared house, I get to actually talk to family without interruption after the kids go to bed. It’s nice not to be trapped in a hotel room after bedtime at 7:30 pm.
A lake is a really great family destination because it’s low cost, relaxing, but with still SO much to do. No strong current, big waves, or fast-moving water make it easy for young kids to sit and play on the beach or wade or swim in shallow water. Older kids and adults can go out kayaking, paddleboarding, or fishing. And those who just like to relax in the sun are free to do that as well.
I love that even when everyone is going in different directions, and doing whatever it is that they love the most, we all see each other constantly. And the quiet of the lake is so relaxing for everyone – the outside time has SUCH a positive impact on my kids’ happiness and behavior, so we are all happy and calm.
Whatever type of vacation you choose for your family, you are bound to have an amazing trip. As a parent, especially a parent with no family close by, these family reunions, or extended family trips, are something we’ve really grown to cherish. These are experiences you’ll never regret having, and photos you’ll be framing and hanging up on the wall. I hope this helps you get out there and plan your trip!