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How to Plan a Successful Family Reunion Trip

Since we moved to Barcelona from the US, we’ve provided a motivation to turn family visits into full-on trips. This past summer, we spent a week on Spain’s Costa Brava with Marshall’s siblings and their kids. In the fall, we took a Thanksgiving trip to Portugal with my parents and brother’s family

The ruins of the Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra, Portugal
The ruins of the Castelo dos Mouros in Sintra, Portugal

These trips were great ways to spend time together, with experiences we’ll all remember. In both cases, we learned valuable lessons about what can go right – and wrong – when planning a big family trip. Here’s a few things your might want to consider.

Find a location that suits properly the whole family

Obviously, deciding where you’re going to go is the first question. Apart from the regular travel questions of your time and budget, you’ll need to consider your family members as well. Where can they afford to go, and for how long? Having an open conversation up front will preserve the harmony later.

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Going to the beach

Unless you’re from a family of hardy adventurers, you’ll want to go somewhere that’s easy to access. Can you all drive to your destination, or is it served by a major airport? If not, you might want to break up the trip. Spend a day or two in a major city before setting off to an off-the-beaten-track location.

This last consideration is maybe the most important: Age-appropriateness. I’m not just talking about kids. If older family members are making the effort to travel, make sure they can participate. Don’t plan a full day hike if Grandpa has chronic back pain, or if your nephew has to take a midday nap. Find a full range of family-friendly activities available, and put it up for discussion far in advance of the trip.

Find the best place for your family to stay

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Dad and son enjoying the scenic pool outside their accommodation

Where will you stay? You’ll need to find a situation that’s comfortable for everyone.. Put together a list of everyone’s needs (crib, anyone?), preferences, and budget. Then, either crowdsource your options, or put one person in charge of the decision.  (There tends to be one family member with strong Airbnb opinions/skills.) Hopefully, you’ll find the family vacation home or hotel of your collective dreams.

Plan ahead of time how you will handle meals

Renting a home makes it easy to cook family meals, but is that what you want to do? On our trip to the Costa Brava, we’d take turns going to the grocery store and cooking. But in Portugal, we ate out for most meals. (My idea of cooking Thanksgiving dinner was roundly rejected, probably for the best.)

Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Portugal

Decide in advance, so you can figure out if you need a fully functional kitchen, or a corner with a Keurig. If you’re planning to go out, get restaurant recommendations in advance. Especially if you have a large group, reservations can be handy. There’s nothing worse than wandering a city while your family gets too hangry to make a decision about where to eat.

Plan at least few activities to do in advance

So, what do you do once you get there? The first step is to set your activity ambitions low. Plan only one or two group activities per day. If you’re a professional-level sightseer, herding your whole family through even the best-planned itinerary might be too much for everyone to handle. If the more ambitious travelers want to set off on their own after the group activity, you’ll still have spent quality time as a whole family.

If you do split up into smaller groups, make firm plans of where and when you’re going to meet again.

Most importantly, leave room for things not going the way you planned! They never do. The most important thing is making memories with your family, and valuing the effort it takes to do it.

Salvador Dali house in Port Ligat close Cadaques
Salvador Dali house in Port Ligat close Cadaques, Girona, Spain

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