Surviving the In-Laws at a Family Reunion

Remember the man or woman at your last reunion who sat quietly in the corner, eyes glazed or buried in a book a bit too often? Is this person you?

Family reunions are great events, ways to touch base with old family members, visit with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. And if it's your family, most likely people will be stealing your attention as you will be with them.

For spouses, day after day of socializing with in-laws, while not necessarily boring, can get old. Here are some helpful tips to keep the doldrums away, make yourself look like a bit of a star, and survive your mate's family reunion.

Have a spouse who might benefit from these tips? Pass them along. After all, if you both enjoy yourselves fully, the whole trip looks brighter.

  • More is better - The more people at the reunion, the more likely you are to find someone with tastes and interests similar to yours.
  • Cook a meal - This makes you the star for an evening and gets you out of doing the dishes.
  • Develop carnival skills - Find a way to win kids a cool gift at an arcade (or similar location) and you'll be the talk of the reunion.
  • Wine and song - Bring a set of CDs or an iPod programmed with tunes you know the whole group will love. Alcohol, groups and music make the time fly by.

See full in-law article on MSNBC.

Mmm... Summer Recipes for Family Reunions

Summer is fast-approaching, a prime time to gather the family, invite the grandparents, and host or attend a family reunion. One thing is a given at family reunions of any size: the food. Are you hosting a family reunion? In charge of cooking a meal for the whole group? Impress the family with a scrumptious recipe that leaves everyone sated and singing your praises.

Here are tips for planning meals (for family reunion organizers) and recipe ideas:

1. Potlucks - If many family members are near the reunion host's home, a potluck is the perfect way to feed the clan, sharing costs and meal-prep time with those who can whip up a dish.

2. BBQs - Nothing is more classic for family reunions than a good old-fashioned summertime barbeque feast with steaks, seafood, veggies, chicken, and burgers fresh from the grill, dripping with succulent sauces and smokey flavoring.

3. Family-hosted meals - Simplify meals and cut down on costs by rotating meal responsibilities between families. Reunion planners can plan ahead by coordinating on meals using TripHub's "send a message" feature.

4. Low calorie dishes – Many people watch their weight and may dread the idea of a family reunion breaking their healthy eating habits they've worked hard to attain. Keep temptations at bay by hosting a low-cal meal or having low-cal side dishes at each meal.

Here are many more recipes ripe for the summer season, a time most families get together for family reunions. Recipe sources: Bon appetit!

Start planning your family reunion today.

More recipe resources to check out:

Best Movies to Rent Before Your High School Reunion

Everyone has a favorite high school movie. To fully prep for your next reunion, or just for kicks, rent a flick that conjures up the sentiments of high school – whatever they may be. From gag reflexes about your former hairdo, to fond memories of your first love, take a couple hours to watch a film or two that gets you in the reunion mood before you slap that "Hello, my name is" sticker on your shirt.

Were you the class geek? Class clown? Most likely to succeed? Least likely to get married? My guess is we can all relate to at least one character in one of these movies.

1. American Graffiti
2. Breakfast Club
3. Election
4. Ferris Beuller's Day Off
5. Grease
6. Karate Kid
7. The Outsiders
8. Rock 'n' Roll High School
9. Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
10. Say Anything

When you’re ready to reunite with old high school friends, you can use TripHub to coordinate things to do, lodging, flights and rental cars for your high school reunion.

What did I miss? Feel free to post a comment. I realize the frivolous nature of this post, but thought it might be fun to think about movies that get you in the mood for reunions.

Family Reunions: Make Every Communiqué Count

Family reunions often require more than a single notice. Reunion planners commonly communicate with their families numerous times during the planning process. That’s a lotta family! Even before you reunite. Here’s how to make every communiqué count:

1. Include family in early decisions about date and location. By including more family members in the early, pivotal decisions of location and date, other details become secondary. Any decision you make about transportation, food, activities, etc. become part of the bigger decisions they helped select. It also builds interest and momentum. Plus, the bigger the consensus on location and date, the more people you’re likely to get by giving them a chance to plan their travel schedules well in advance. Points for you!

2. Send a "save the date" reminder. Once the key decisions of date, location and budget are made (via the first, exploratory communications), send out a "save the date" reminder email (made easy with's free planning tools) with the reunion dates, location and, if known, lodging info.

At this point, you can also ask people whether they plan to attend to get an estimated head count.

"Save the date" reminders are also great opportunities for enlisting volunteers to help with planning. See The Art of Delegation for ways to get the most out of your volunteers.

3. Lost in email translation. Spam, work and personal emails all create mounds of cyber-data that can be overwhelming. In group planning, I’ve found sending details out in bulk after key decisions have been made mitigates questions and headache for you, the organizer.

4. Written invitations. While email works well for many communications, a written invitation for a family reunion can do wonders - something colorful, eye-catching and postcard-sized that can easily be put on your fridge or bulletin board. This also helps for great-grandparents or others less likely to use email regularly (or at all).

What to include on your invitation:

  • Dates
  • Times of scheduled events or activities
  • Location (with full address or map)
  • Lodging options (including phone numbers and room block details)
  • Overall trip agenda (if confirmed) so attendees can plan their free time accordingly

5. Highlight volunteers. You might want to highlight volunteers who are helping to plan particular activities. This increases visibility to those helping, shows appreciation and stirs interest in the reunion by alerting the family of fun that will be had by all. This also gives you a way to steer communication to the volunteers in charge of them, freeing up your time to focus on other projects.

6. Get RSVPs back on time. Whether using the "save the date" or written invitation to get RSVPs, give your group a specific deadline. Provide both an email and phone number for people to RSVP. I also recommend picking one key contact per nuclear family to get their family’s RSVPs back on time. This simplifies things and leaves the burden of communication to a head of household or ultra-organized family member (anyone come to mind?).

How TripHub helps track RSVPs:

  • You can easily track response rates using TripHub, including regular reports on who has booked hotel rooms, who has RSVP’d and more.
  • Attendees can RSVP right on TripHub or call you and you (as group organizer) can alter their status.
  • If response rates are low, you may need to send out another email or follow up with people individually. TripHub allows you to filter and alert all or only those who haven’t yet responded. If they don’t respond by email, you might try calling.

7. Final family reunion reminder. Send a final reminder email several weeks before the reunion. This is your opportunity to communicate any updates or changes and to reconfirm key details. This email can also serve as a "last call" to those who have not yet confirmed their plans. Using free planning tools, everyone can see who else is coming. This will get people excited and give them a chance to schedule their own "side events" (i.e., golfing with Uncle Bill). Other helpful items to include are maps, destination information, important numbers (one cell phone number per nuclear family, etc.) and a "what to bring" list.

8. Post-reunion wrap-up. Finally, you can send a wrap-up letter/email to the whole family (everyone who was invited, not only those who attended) with your favorite stories, pictures from the reunion, and a family contact list. A family Web site is great for this as well.

Do you know of other ways to make communication efficient and easy? Share your thoughts by posting a comment.

The Art of Delegation

You shouldn’t have to plan a family reunion (or wedding) all alone. Here are 10 tips for delegating with panache, keeping your finger on the pulse, and stepping aside for others to share the planning responsibilities.

Since weddings often turn into family reunions, many of these planning principles will also work for brides and grooms.

Tip 1: Make a checklist. Create a checklist of everything that needs to get done including deadlines and who is responsible for given tasks. Check this list often. As you get closer to the event, be sure to confirm the details with your service providers.

Tip 2: Start a chain reaction. When individuals get involved, they’ll become event champions who will promote the reunion to their respective branches of the family tree.

Tip 3: Enlist volunteers early. Right from the start, enlist volunteers to help with everything from creating and distributing "welcome kits" to planning specific events and activities. It lightens your load and allows you to tap into the creativity of your group. If planning a destination wedding, early help is critical.

Tip 4: Choose help wisely. You know your family. You know the flakes and leaders. The dreamers and doers. The bakers and candlestick makers. While everyone has talents and skills, I recommend choosing people with some planning experience for bigger projects. Those less likely to tackle bigger projects well would be perfect for a smaller, specific task (find and bring a cake for grandma’s birthday dinner). Match tasks delegated to those best suited for the task to create the most efficient use of everyone’s time.

Tip 5: Connections count. But use them carefully and don’t impose on anyone. Always ask. Never assume. Does Aunt Betty work in catering? Ask if she can find a good caterer. If a wedding or family reunion is in a major U.S. metropolitan area such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. or Chicago and Uncle Fred’s best friend can score a deal in baseball tickets, ask Fred if block of seats are possible to get.

Tip 6: Tap the creativity of your family. You’d be surprised what talents lay dormant in your family’s gene pool. Get help on projects or tasks where others have expertise such as building an up-to-date family contact list (for Excel or database wizards), designing a family Web site (for the graphically-inclined), organizing entertainment for an evening (use a family musician, perhaps), negotiating the best rate at hotels (think sales skills), chefs in the family can provide a "guest meal" one night (mmm… Uncle Bob's barbequed Asian salmon special), and so forth.

Tip 7: Avoid getting spammed. To avoid getting "cc'd" on every email communiqué, encourage the volunteers to make decisions on their own with the group and communicate that you just need to know the final details of their particular task(s). If they have problems/questions along the way, they can contact you. But giving them authority saves you time and gently ensures they’re held accountable, increasing chances they’ll complete the task(s).

Tip 8: Give credit where credit is due. Someone once told me that many who succeed "Delegate and take credit." While this was half-truth and half-joke, you should always give credit to those who help or lead a project. You may be organizing, orchestrating or rallying the troops, but many make it a success. Thank the academy.

Tip 9: Solicit ideas from those helping plan. There is a fine line between directing and delegating. I’ve learned people respond better when their own ideas are heard and carried out. They become invested and feel a personal sense of pride and accomplishment. That said, pay attention to quality and don’t be afraid to guide the process. Your feedback is helpful, as is theirs. Incorporate the best ideas from others and know when to (carefully) suggest alternatives to other ideas.

Brides, you have your ideas and your fiancé has his. So do your families. Use the best ideas, but ultimately the call is yours (and his).   

Tip 10: Stay tuned and connected. You're still the leader of the group so once a task is assigned, it's important to follow up regularly to make sure everything's getting done. Schedule a weekly check-in with yourself and/or others to get a status of tasks completed and things that need a follow-up. The more organized you are, the more smoothly things will run.

Have any of your own tips or lessons learned? Care to add to any of the tips listed above? Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. Please post a comment below.

Planning a Successful Family Reunion - Part II

Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.

5. Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation spots such as Hawaii or the Caribbean, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:

  • Can the majority of folks easily get to the location without a huge expense (or are they willing to pay to travel that far)?
  • Does the location provide fun and engaging activities for all ages from kids to seniors?
  • Does the location have multiple activity options both indoor and outdoor (for those who need to get out of the sun, rain, or cold)?
  • Is there anyone in your family or extended family that may have difficulty in a location (wheelchair considerations, health issues, etc.)? If you choose a theme park as your major destination, can everyone or most participate?
  • Parents with infants have a special set of needs (nap times, feeding times, diaper changes) and may require easy-access to a quiet room.
  • Will in-laws (who may not be as excited as y'all about the prospect of spending an entire weekend sitting around listening to old family stories) have interesting things to do?
  • Check with the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) before setting a date to ensure there isn’t a major event in town to avoid filled hotels and a location busier than normal. On the other hand, you could make a public festival or event part of the fun!
  • Explore the advantages/disadvantages of having the family reunion in the same location as a previous year. There is comfort for people in being on familiar ground; plus, you can always try new activities, food and places to stay in that same location. Survey your group and find out if they prefer a new destination or an old favorite.
  • Be flexible and you’ll have the greatest chance of securing a better rate. Keep in mind peak or off-season for various locations. For example, occupancy rates in Florida are very high over spring break but typically much lower in August. Granted, Florida is much hotter in August, but prices are significantly lower.

6. Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:

  • Your group's per night budget
  • Number of rooms required
  • Hotel's location
  • Amenities required (on-site restaurant, pool, in-room kitchens, etc.)
  • Meeting space and catering services available (if required)
  • Shuttle service and parking

When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):

  • Budget (typically 1-star and some 2-star hotels)
  • Moderate (mainly 3-star and some 2-star hotels)
  • Higher-end and luxury (4-star and 5-star hotels)
  • Suite hotels, houses for rent, villas, condos with in-room kitchens (often ideal for groups with young children)

7. Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.

Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:

  • Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking/hiking, shopping and visiting museums and historical landmarks provide great entertainment for family members young and old.
  • Be creative and leverage the talents and skills of your group when thinking about food, decorations and entertainment for these activities.
  • Schedule two events per day as well as "optional" choices such as a golf tournament or a hike so people can participate or opt out.
  • Everyone may not know each other (spouses, for example) so think about ways to introduce people to each other. Nametags with names and favorite villain, cartoon, sport, animal, kitchen gadget, dessert or vacation spot (you choose!) is sure to spark conversation.
  • Make sure that there will be enough space and food per activity.
  • Alert the group when meals are incorporated or provided with activities. If a stop at a world-famous milkshake joint follows a white-water rafting excursion, you might entice more people to go rafting.
  • Have a Plan B in case of rain.
  • Family reunions are designed to bring people together so plan events and activities that encourage group interaction. Something as simple as a potluck brings everyone to one place for mingling.
  • Provide games (Scrabble, cards, other board games) so people can sit down and relax without feeling anti-social.
  • Bring a first-aid kit on excursion-type activities such as hiking, biking, touring.
  • Provide a list of what to wear and bring for each activity.

Have any tips for family reunion activities that have worked especially well? Post a comment.

Planning a Successful Family Reunion - Part I

Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.

1. Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.

2. Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.

3. Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.

4. Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:

  • If you're scheduling the reunion around a particular event (i.e., a grandparent's birthday or 50th wedding anniversary), holiday or school break then your options may be limited. If you're not date constrained, and if there are particular family members who absolutely must be there, speak with them first.
  • Next, talk to key family members (i.e., Uncle Bob who keeps in close contact with many people in and beyond his branch of the family tree) to determine if there are other events that might create a conflict for a number of possible attendees.
  • Then select 3-4 dates that provide sufficient planning time, and send these dates to the family.
  • Ask people to let you know which dates work best for them of the 3-4 options you provide, but make sure to emphasize that the majority rules so no one feels singled out if they are not able to attend.
  • Many people may not be able to fully commit six or more months in advance so you may need to request guesstimates. To increase your response rate and make decision making easier, give people a deadline and ask them to rank their date preferences.
  • Finally, stick to your decision. Changing dates mid-stream can create a phenomenal amount of additional work.

Give us feedback and your lessons learned by posting a comment. Read Part 2.