Planning a Family Reunion: 5 Key Questions
A Gathering of the Clans
For thousands of years, it's been a tradition for families to get together every so often to renew the bonds that tie us together and spend some time enjoying each others' company. Today, not much has changed. Unlike our ancestors, we use electricity and amusement parks rather than oil lamps and wild boar hunts, but the end result is very much the same (minus the casualties). Cousins renew their resolutions to stay in contact, the women huddle and swap stories about husbands and children, and the men sit in the next room talking about sports teams. Like most families, tears are shed, laughter is spread, and there's at least one falling out, but everyone makes up and leaves knowing that their family is the best in the world and looking forward to next year.
Of course there are a million and one details that go into a trip to make it go smoothly. Who's going to make the reservations? Where are you going to stay? How many meals do you want to eat out and who's responsible for the meals you're making at the rental? It can easily become a complicated, overwhelming endeavor. However, with a little forethought, delegation, and use of modern technology, you can significantly reduce the stress of organizing an event of this magnitude and importance.
1. Where are you going?
The first thing that needs to be determined is where you're going on this family trip. You'll want to consider the needs and situations of various family members. No matter what destination you choose, it will be more convenient and/or more affordable to get there for some than it will be for others.
Of course our favorite place is Asheville, NC. Asheville is a community nestled in the North Carolina mountains and is built on the love and tenacity of the families who settled them. It has plenty to offer for a variety of tastes. Mother Nature provides fabulous opportunities with activities like whitewater rafting, hiking, horseback riding and more for those who love the outdoors. The city of Asheville offers plenty of shopping and nightlife as well as the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, theaters, the historic district and more. Where better to take your family to than Asheville?
Asheville Connections is happy to provide a variety of lodgings for your family to choose from. See the sidebar for some great choices perfect for a reunion.
2. What type of rental amenities are you looking for?
This is a topic best clarified as early as possible. Partially so people know what to pack (i.e. a swimsuit), but also so that no one shows up with expectations that won't be met (like a fire pit in the backyard). What's most important to you and your family? Being close to the city or closer to nature? As you determine which rental properties are best for your family, make sure everyone understands what package comes with which house. Many websites, including this one, have a favorites cart where you can add several properties and email them to your family members. A good rental website will list the amenities, sleeping arrangements, maximum occupancy, etc., and have plenty of pictures to look at.
3. Who gets the master suite with the king size bed?
Sleeping arrangements can be tricky for a larger group with multiple adult couples. In a vacation rental, you are likely to have a master suite with private bath and then a mixture of bedrooms with one bed and/or multiple beds, and possibly a sleeper sofa or two in living areas. Again, the property management website is a great resource in this area. Check the details of the home carefully and make sure there is enough room for everyone. Then go ahead and give the master suite to the patriarch and matriarch of the family. They've earned it! From there, start assigning rooms based on individual family units and any special needs.
For larger groups, multiple properties may be needed. Look for a mapping feature on the rental website you are considering renting from. You can often find two properties adjoining, or two or more properties very close together offering you more room, while still keeping you together as a unit. For example, Asheville Connections has three properties all on the same 16 acres. Rent all three and you have plenty of room for everyone and end up with three hot tubs, two game rooms, a fire pit, and plenty of hiking and fishing right outside the doors. (See sidebar.)
Be careful not to exceed the maximum occupancy rates. The occupancy rates are often defined by state or local health departments, and they will not allow overcrowding. Exceeding the maximum could result in eviction and you don't want to go there. The only possible exception to the maximum might be a babe in arms. Call your rental agency and check if this applies and they may even be able to provide a crib for you.
4. What's for dinner?
Eating together as a family, and even preparing the meal can be a very rewarding and bonding experience. Whether it's a formal sit-down meal or casual BBQ/buffet style, getting together for family meals allows time for getting reacquainted, reminiscing, and telling those funny (and yes sometimes embarrassing) childhood stories about your brother or sister that they hadn't yet told their spouse.
A good first step in meal planning is to determine which meals will be eaten together and which will be YOYO (you're on your own). For example, some families will have breakfast together every morning to make sure that everyone is on the same page and to know who is doing which activity that day. Others will make dinner the only planned meal and go over the next day's plans at that time. How laid back and how large your family is are key factors in determining how much planning really needs to go into the menu beforehand.
Once you've decided which meals will be together, give everyone an opportunity to participate. If your group is large enough with enough individual family units, each unit can take a meal on a specified day that they are responsible for. If dinner is your planned meal each day, it can be fun to have themes. Allow each family group to pick a favorite (and something they are comfortable with). Mexican, Italian, finger food, whatever. It's easiest if the same group is responsible for cooking and cleaning up. Usually there are always plenty of others in the family who will pitch in just so they can chat over the dishes.
Create a chart for meals and times. Check out ours! Just print it off and use as is, or use it for inspiration for making your own. Make it a meal and activity chart that you can share with everyone beforehand, as well as take with you for reference each day.
Have a plan for shopping and paying for the food in advance. You'll need to consider who is arriving and when. Are they driving or flying? Are there allergies or other dietary restrictions? Maybe everyone will provide their own breakfast and lunch ingredients while splitting the dinner groceries evenly. Some items you'll want to bring from home if you can. Items like spices, oils or specialty kitchen tools that you'll want when it's your turn to cook. Try to find out what's in the vacation rental kitchen as well. Is there a blender? A food processor? A large stock pot? Knowing what is on hand and what you'll want will save you a lot of time and frustration later. The better prepared you are beforehand, the more time you will have to spend enjoying your vacation and your family!
5. What activities are planned?
The best part about visiting new places is the unique experiences they have to offer. Not all activities will appeal to everyone and people will go off in different directions for part of the day. But often you will have planned activities with a large group wanting to participate. Check to see if you need reservations and how far in advance. For instance, you may have a group that wants to go horseback riding or whitewater rafting. You may want to plan this one out in advance and make sure you have reservations. Many shows and plays will also require reservations for larger groups, so make sure those special events are planned for ahead of time.
While it's easy to remember to check out the local opportunities to get out of the rental, it's equally easy to forget how quickly Mother Nature can ruin those plans. In the event of inclement weather, it's convenient to have a back-up plan ready. Some families are old-movie enthusiasts. So everyone brings a couple of their favorites and if there are any unexpected surprises that keep people inside, they have the option of a marathon day with great snacks and oh-so-much-singing along.
For homeschooling families or parents who enjoy being proactive in their kids' education, looking into local history is a fun option. That could mean anything from taking a tour of somewhere historic to watching a documentary or movie that expands on an important event.
Many properties will have game rooms with billiards or other games, as well as cards and board games. One fun game that can be played for quite a while without it getting boring is Hedbandz/Heads Up. One of the best things about this game is that it can be easily improvised with headbands and pieces of paper or 3x5 cards. Write a person or animal on the paper and stick it in a headband around someone's head — then let the guessing begin! If you have a favorite board game, be sure to take it with you!
With great rentals come great responsibilities. According to most rental agreements, the cleanliness of the rental while you're in it is your responsibility, and you'll be expected to leave it clean when you leave. So factor in time for basic chores and tidying up into your plans. It's helpful to figure out who is going to be responsible for what as soon as possible. Allow people to choose their preferences or just put the different responsibilities in a hat and have everyone pick one. Once you have everyone's job sorted out, you can set up a central hub, an H.Q. if you will, like Google Drive or iCloud. This keeps everyone up-to-date on the latest developments without having to email each other multiple times a day. This helps you schedule out things like meals, where more than one person may be involved. The more planning you can put into the everyday tasks, the smoother the entire trip will go.
It's also important to remember to pack basic cleaning supplies, so you don't have to make your first venture into town right after breakfast to buy dish soap. The key to making sure you have everything is communication! Check the website for rental policies, FAQs, and helpful information pages. Most of the time you will find information on what is provided and what you need to bring. After you've made your reservation, the rental company will likely send you a confirmation with some attached documents informing you of all the items you need to know. Read them! Feel free to call or email your rental company if you have any questions and then make a list of all the incidentals (i.e. trash bags, toilet paper, soap, etc…) that you'll need.
Ready, Set, Reunion!
Reunion planning can be challenging and organizing a get-together with everyone can get complicated, but in the end it's all worth it. Family is one of the rare things in life that is consistent and really gives you the opportunity to choose to find the best in others, as they refine what's best about you.
We hope this helps smooth out some of the rough edges that come with planning an event with so many moving parts and encourages you to brainstorm your own ideas — ones that will make your family reunion relaxing and enjoyable for everyone. Regardless of your destination, we hope that the hospitality of the South finds you and your family as you spend time together, and you have a truly memorable experience to cherish for years to come.