Vacation Memory #3: Homeward Bound—a Pipe Dream?

Sometimes the stories we enjoy telling most about our travels are the travel itself, rather than the destinations. After all, travel is full of risk, inconveniences, and unknowns. Such as the episode I shared about Tim’s and my trip to Belize, when we were trying to get off Caye Calker.

Then there’s Tim’s comedy of errors resulting in missing the final World Cup soccer game because he was en route in a taxi. And the time we hitchhiked to the airport out of desperation—with our two girls, ages three and nearly one. Oh, dear!

Check out previous Vacation Memory Posts from my readers:

My guest today, Nancy Heiss, shares her travel tale. It’s no doubt one of hundreds, since her husband was a pilot for Midwest Express—which, incidentally, was well known for their delicious trademark chocolate chip cookies served with each flight. 

Also, incidentally, my husband Tim, a U.S. history teacher, had the good fortune of having the Heiss children as high school students years ago.

Travel was (and still is) a way of life for the Heiss family. No doubt they were used to the push and pull of travel, along with the unexpected, itinerary or not. 

But nobody wants to deal with bumps in the road (or in the air) on the way home. That’s the time to break into song: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (yes, that dates me) or Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” (yes, that dates me, too).

There’s nothing more anti-climactic than a wonderful vacation that seems to never end . . . because the trip home is too long. Or becomes impossible. It’s particularly challenging with young children.

Trying to Get Home — by Nancy Heiss

We very fortunate to be able to travel to all 50 states with our children. This was possible, because my husband, Marty, was an airline employee. We were able to fly standby with passes. 

Courtesy of Visual Hunt

We went on our first true vacation when our daughter Leslie was 6, and our son Marty was 16 months old. We flew into San Francisco, uneventfully. We rented a car, and explored the major sights in San Francisco, then Los Angeles.  

Nancy with Leslie, 6, and Marty, 16 months, on the Pacific shore
Courtesy of Visual Hunt

Our plan was to fly home out of Los Angeles. We arrived at the airport with everything in carry-on sized bags. If employees get bumped off a flight, the checked luggage goes without them. 

Traveling standby is a great privilege, but also nerve-wracking. The seats are filled according to employee seniority dates. It takes skillful eavesdropping to find out seniority dates of other standby passengers.

When it came time to board the standby passengers, it was determined that we had the best date. Unfortunately, there was only one seat available. We needed two seats. Dad could ride in cockpit jumpseat, I could hold Marty on my lap, and Leslie needed one seat. Since she was so young, there was no way we could split up. 

There was another couple with a small baby. The woman and her baby were given the seat, and her husband said he would come back the next day. (There was only one flight each day.)

For the Heiss’s travel, this would actually be a Midwest Express plane. Courtesy Visual Hunt

Jerry Seinfeld once said that standby gets its name from you standing at the gate waving “bye” to the airplane. That about sums it up!

We returned to the airport the following day. When it was time to board the standbys, once again there was only one seat. The husband, from the day before, was given the seat. He joyfully “high fived” everyone on the way down the jetway.

Marty said we needed to get creative. We went to a nearby pay phone to see how the red eye flight out of San Diego looked. At that time, a flight attendant called us over. They’d miscounted, and had one more seat. The man who had already been seated was being bumped off. We gathered our bags, and awkwardly passed him in the jetway.

When we arrived in Milwaukee, the woman with the baby was standing at the doorway as we came off the plane. She recognized us, and asked if we had seen her husband. 

We gave a sheepish look, saying we didn’t think he was on the flight. Then we kept on moving. 


I’ve known people who thrive on flying standby for the sake of a free ticket. But being that flexible is tough with a young family in tow! Especially with babies.

Then there’s the educational aspect of travel. We hope that taking our children to places like Boston’s Freedom Trail, Gettysburg and other Civil War sites, Kitty Hawk, NC, the St. Louis Arch, and Washington D.C. will make history come alive for them. Why not mix learning with fun? Slide some educational tidbits in when they least expect it. Until it backfires.

Above: Along Boston’s Freedom Trail is Faneuil Hall Marketplace & Quincy Market, and Beacon Hill’s cobblestone streets. Courtesy of Visual Hunt.

Above: Washington D.C.’s Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument & reflecting pool, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Courtesy of Visual Hunt.

Davy Who? — by Nancy Heiss

We love to travel, and are particularly fond of historical landmarks. During spring break in 1996, we went to Texas. Leslie was in 5th grade, and Marty was in kindergarten. 

After spending time in Dallas, we headed to San Antonio. We were walking toward the Alamo, and I thought this might be a teachable moment. I asked Leslie if she had heard of Davy Crockett. 

She responded quite emphatically, “No, but I have heard of Betty Crocker.” 

At that moment, I realized that we should have done more teaching prior to arriving at the landmark. At least we captured the visit in pictures, for future reference!

Making memories at the Alamo in 1996–Leslie in 5th grade, Marty in kindergarten

Above: Davy Crockett portrait, by John Gadsby Chapman. Betty Crocker in the Ladies Home Journal, and later in 1958 (courtesy of Visual Hunt.) Betty Crocker was christened in 1921, originating from the 1800s Washburn-Crosby company that later evolved into General Mills.

Well, there are similarities. Betty’s company of origin and Davy Crockett both existed in the 1800s. She was all about food and I’m sure he ate plenty of it. They both achieved immortality in their own way. After Davy’s death at the Alamo, he became an American folk hero. But Betty lives on. In fact, she looks even younger after 99 years of baking.

Do you have a vacation story involving travel gone awry? Or one about kids who didn’t quite get the point of the educational highlight?

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,


6 thoughts on “Vacation Memory #3: Homeward Bound—a Pipe Dream?

  1. We’ve all heard of the placebo effect (suggesting that a remedy works and so it does, for absolutely no scientific basis), but I think there should also be a name for what I call the “power of suggestion” effect. My youngest daughter struggled with motion sickness most of her young years. We had to make sure we traveled with multiple barf bags in preparation for anything involving a long car trip, train ride, or airplane flight. If it involved moving, it involved heaving. Done deal.

    But I think the repeating nature of the dilemma started to have its psychological effect on my poor daughter over time. After being home on furlough for a year, it was time to return to Mexico, which would involve a 4-hour plane flight, 30+ minutes on a train or taxi, followed by five hours of a bus ride. A very curvy ramp; bumpy bus ride. The mere thought of it with my four children was a little intimidating to me, but it was obviously quite impactful on my daughter.

    The morning we got up to leave, she went straight from her bed, downstairs, and directly into the bathroom to upchuck her cookies (or whatever she had supped on the night before). She wasn’t even out of her pajamas yet. Clearly the anxiety of the upcoming trip was more than she could handle, even though the traveling itself hadn’t even started.

    I knew it was going to be a long day. And it was. There was more upheaval at the airport, on the plane, on the train, and of course, on the bus. It was a long day. But thankfully, we made it safely, and I’m happy to report that for the most part, she has finally outgrown her motion sickness. And I’m happy that I don’t have to travel with motion sickness bags anymore!

    1. Oh, my! That sounds awful! You’re not just talking about a little jaunt down the freeway. I’m thinking of all the times you had to go back and forth from Mexico to Chicago–planes and busses–and then all the trips between Chicago and Michigan. Multiply those miles by how many barf bags? Oh, dear.

  2. Once my husband and I missed a flight— crazy one-mile-an-hour Chicago traffic, dropped off at the wrong terminal, trying to catch the next train to the right terminal, and plane zipped up tight 40 minutes before takeoff all played into it. Thing is, we were on our way to his final job interview with plans to look at schools and houses— the company had paid for our tickets. Only thing to do was wait for the next plane to see if they could squeeze us on. Four flights and eight hours later, we were still waiting. My husband finally upgraded with frequent flyer miles and we got on, arriving on the east coast at 1am. Just in time to sleep for a few hours and be at the job by 8.
    Waiting all that time was horrible. We were afraid to even go to the bathroom lest we miss a seat.
    So I can’t imagine going through all that with kids, especially little ones!!

    And in case you’re wondering, they offered him the job but he didn’t take it. They were a wonderful company— but I think the whole experience got him to thinking what it would be like to uproot our kids across the country.

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