Experts reveal why getting together is key after so much time spent apart

There are so many reasons for planning a family reunion this year. The pandemic health crisis has made it difficult for families and friends to gather freely, making loved ones yearn for quality time together. Today’s families live farther apart than ever, and there’s a renewed focus on what matters most in life.

“When a crisis hits, it’s natural to have family become a major priority,” said Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association.

While relationships and family ties have always been valued, now having the time to bond, reconnect and make family memories has become even more cherished. Reunions and family get-togethers are great ways to make it happen. According to many experts, reuniting and vacationing together brings families closer and provides numerous benefits.

“Traveling as a family is a fantastic way to deepen familial connections, improve bonds and create lifelong memories,” said Dr. Jen Hartstein, a noted family psychologist and author. Rainer Jenss agrees, noting that “vacationing as a family can be just as transformational as it is recreational, for both kids and adults.”

After being grounded for so long, families are more grateful for travel experiences. According to recent research studies by Destination Analysts, almost 60% of American travelers miss traveling very much and 84% of Americans are excited to plan a vacation. Reuniting with loved ones is taking top billing, as spending time with family and friends ranked highest on Americans’ list of travel priorities.

“There is no greater joy than families spending quality time together and catching up after missing a year,” said Jessica Griscavage, an expert travel advisor and director of marketing for McCabe World Travel.

Families have endured significant hardships, stress and isolation due to the pandemic. These factors also can be tough on individuals’ well-being. Numerous academic and corporate research studies show that simply the process of planning travel can increase overall happiness and relieve anxiety. According to a poll conducted last fall by the Institute for Applied Positive Research, 97% of survey participants said “having a trip planned makes them happier.”

Colorado's YMCA of the Rockies is a highly popular choice for family reunions. Photo courtesy of YMCA of the Rockies

Colorado’s YMCA of the Rockies is a highly popular choice for family reunions. Photo Credit: YMCA of the Rockies

YMCA of the Rockies, the site of a well-regarded Family Reunion University in the past, has seen this take place. “The anticipation of gathering as a family and creating new memories together is a powerful mood booster, even if the gathering itself is still a year or so away,” said Ashley Machalek, YMCA of the Rockies outdoor education & reunions specialist.

More than ever, families realize that they can’t put things off and it’s important to grab every moment of life while you can. It’s key to begin planning family gatherings now, regardless of whether the reunion will take place in 2021 or 2022.

“Family reunions are so essential during and following this pandemic era because it is important to get together with loved ones and enjoy some time that doesn’t include the craziness of the outside world,” said Bryce Albright, executive director of The Dude Ranchers’ Association.

Reunions bring families closer together and create cherished lifelong memories.

Reunions bring families closer together and create cherished lifelong memories. Photo Credit: YMCA of the Rockies

Booking levels and budgetary considerations are additional reasons to start the family reunion planning process. A tidal wave of pent-up travel demand has been building, just like it did after the events of 9/11, and bookings are starting to surge. Cancelled travel reservations from 2020 have also been rolled over to this year and 2022, reducing availability even further. In addition, attractive offers from travel suppliers and flexible change policies are creating a superb window for planning and booking family reunion trips.

“Vacation planners are going to be rewarded this year more than ever before,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Not only will planners reap the significant personal benefits of looking forward to their next travel experience, but they will find some of the friendliest booking conditions we have seen in a very long time.” It’s crucial to begin coordinating family reunions early to take advantage of these options.

Ideas for Family Reunion Planning This Year

Planning family reunions can be challenging, particularly when multiple generations and large groups of people are involved. It’s difficult to please everyone, so make sure that there’s a plethora of appealing activities and amenities for all ages and interests. It’s also important to have an accurate handle on budgets and the size of your group to develop the best options.

Here are a few expert tips for planning a family reunion this year:

  • Keep logistics in mind when reunion planning your family. Choosing a family reunion location is always important, but it’s even more key this year when transportation and safety issues come into play. An experienced travel advisor can be a valuable asset in identifying the best options.

“If you have a family that is spread throughout the country, they need to decide if this is a drive trip, who is willing to fly, or are they going to meet halfway,” noted Jessica Griscavage.

Some may be more or less willing to travel, depending on health concerns and restrictions, and budgetary concerns can be a factor as well. It might be necessary to meet in the middle or choose an alternative that works best for budgets, preferences and family members’ needs.

  • Prioritize activities, connections and strengthening family bonds. Design activities and events that everyone can participate in and make sure there’s something for all family members to enjoy. Creative family reunion themes are often popular for these events.

Schedule flexibility, choices and opportunities for personalization are also key. While some things might be enjoyable for certain members of the family, others may not be so keen to participate. Family members can pursue their own individual interests and then come back together at specific times for shared activities, such as family dinners.

Photo Credit Lost Valley Ranch Jumping for joy at Lost Valley Ranch - Planning a Family Reunion

Having fun spending time together is all part of a great family reunion. Photo Credit: Lost Valley Ranch

Dr. Jen Hartstein suggests concentrating on the fun, rather than the outcome’s smallest details. Every aspect of the reunion may not be perfect, but that’s not the goal. “Focus on the meaning and connections,” Hartstein said, “and that will be great for everyone.”

  • Identify accommodations and travel options that will work best for your This year, family members may be more comfortable forming their own travel pod and booking accommodations shared solely by their family reunion group. In a 2020 poll by Virtuoso, a global network of travel agencies, 79% of respondents said they would be comfortable traveling as part of a travel pod of like-minded families.Possibilities include vacation home and villa rentals, private guided tours, houseboat charters, and full buyouts of ranches and small lodges. “Over 75 ranches allow families to rent out the entire ranch for a week, meaning families have the whole dude ranch and staff just to themselves, which is a fantastic idea especially in the current climate,” said Bryce Albright.
  • Date flexibility and coordinating schedules are important when planning family reunions, making it vital to start the process early. Ashley Machalek suggested, “Consider times of the year other than summer such as fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas or other off-season dates, as rates are lower and there are usually more lodging options available.” Timing may also be more significant this year due to health and travel restrictions, so discuss alternatives and venues that will encourage maximum participation. Togetherness is the ultimate goal, no matter the date.

Family reunions are a magical way for loved ones to reconnect, and the challenging times of the last year have reaffirmed what’s treasured in life. We’ve been reminded that the future is not guaranteed, and that uniting and making memories as a family are our greatest riches.

As Dr. Hartstein said, “Many of us think it’s about the things in our lives. However, it’s really the experiences and time we spend together that are remembered most.

By Nancy Schretter, Contributing Editor