How to Avoid Drama When Planning a Family Reunion


For the past 11 years, Kathy Sudeikis has planned an annual family reunion. Called “Nanapalooza,” the tradition began as a way to bring together her six siblings and her families to honor the memory of her mother.

Held annually near Michigan City, Indiana, the event has doubled from about 40 people in its first year to 74 attendees last summer. “Ted Lasso” star Kathy's son, Jason Sudeikis, is among those who have never missed a year of Nanapalooza, and he's not the only one who has committed to participating.

“A family drives from New York so they can take their car with them,” says Kathy Sudeikis. “Another cousin had her baby induced so she could take it to Nanapalooza.”

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PLAN A MULTIGENERATIONAL TRIP

Kathy Sudeikis works for Acendas Travel, a travel management company based in Kansas City, so she has extensive experience in the industry and is the de facto leader of Nanapalooza. But unlike Nanapalooza, not all multigenerational trips and gatherings go well.

For example, some families might end up paying more on a bill than they owe, or have daily cleaning duties instead of a rotation. Arguments may arise over details such as when to travel and how to split bills. That's why Heidi Durflinger, president of EF Go Ahead Tours in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recommends hiring a tour director.

“The tour director is there from start to finish, knowing everyone's interests,” Durflinger says. “They are professionals in managing group dynamics.”

Of course, you can also plan it yourself.

A family travels through Salt Lake City International Airport. To avoid scheduling conflicts when planning multigenerational trips, Kathy Sudeikis, her family's annual reunion planner, advises tying these occasions to important family dates. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SELECTION OF DATES

Sometimes the hardest part of planning a trip can be setting the dates.

“It will never work perfectly for everyone,” says Kathy Sudeikis. “There's always someone whose kid has band camp that week.”

To avoid such drama, Kathy Sudeikis advises linking trips to important family dates. With Nanapalooza, it's the anniversary of her mother's death. Otherwise, Kathy Sudeikis recommends simply committing to the date.

DECIDE WHERE TO GO

To help agree on a location, Durflinger recommends considering family wealth. His company recently hosted a family reunion in an Italian town where the family's ancestors were originally from.

Meanwhile, the Nanapalooza location was selected because a family owns waterfront property on Lake Michigan, which provides a convenient base for most meals and activities. Families book their accommodation nearby.

On any extended family vacation, Kathy Sudeikis recommends that each family unit be responsible for booking their accommodations and transportation.

“Otherwise you would become a travel agent yourself trying to coordinate that,” he says.

MEAL AND ACTIVITY PLANNING

All-inclusive cruises or resorts can simplify family vacations by offering meals and planning activities for everyone. For example, at Vista Verde Guest Ranch, an all-inclusive ranch in Clark, Colorado, guests choose activities from a preselected list and then everyone regroups at the main lodge for food. Active people can opt for tubing or snowshoeing, while those looking for a more relaxed itinerary can opt for sleigh rides or wine tastings.

Kathy Sudeikis sends a food chart to meeting attendees in advance. Then, each of the seven brothers chooses a single meal to prepare for the entire group.

“Everyone can do their own thing during the day and then meet for dinner,” he says.

PAY FOR THE TRIP

At Nanapalooza, each family rotates and supplies dinner to the entire group. Frugal families could cook, while another family could pay for takeout. Nanapalooza's lakeside location keeps activity costs low.

Although Nanapalooza is fortunate to have minimal financial disagreements, that's not always the case with other family trips. Kathy Sudeikis recommends cruises because families have stateroom options, depending on their budget.

“Make it work for all your siblings because they may not all be in the same financial situation,” he says.

And don't overlook a professionally organized tour. Durflinger says a tour can be cheaper as they can guarantee discounted rates for large groups.

MAKE IT MEMORABLE

Every Nanapalooza involves some type of treat to commemorate the trip. In 2021, it was a unique hoodie. Earlier that year, Jason Sudeikis won a Golden Globe for his role in “Ted Lasso.”

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Because the awards ceremony took place near the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he accepted his award virtually while wearing a tie-dyed hoodie. The colorful case, created by her sister, quickly sold out after her acceptance speech.

Everyone attending Nanapalooza in 2021 received one.

“He ordered 80 hoodies for us that whole year,” says Kathy Sudeikis. “It shows how everyone is committed to this in the spirit of Nana.”

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