One year of JA Café: Travel Talk Over Coffee

//One year of JA Café: Travel Talk Over Coffee

One year of JA Café: Travel Talk Over Coffee

The story behind Jetting Around’s meetups for travelers in Chicago and beyond


JA Cafe - PolaJetting Around Café had been happening long before I realized it.

When I’m at home in Chicago, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops – blogging, reading, or hanging out with friends. They’re my office and living room, a natural habitat.

On the road, cafés are usually the first ‘point of interest.’ I like to visit them to get a feel for the city: pick up an event magazine or watch street life over a cup of locally-roasted coffee. At times, I meet residents or other visitors, and our conversation inevitably steers towards travel.

After a few such occurrences a few years ago, I thought to myself, “Why not make this something official?” I wasn’t quite sure how or when to start, but soon the idea began to take shape.

There are many networking events for the travel industry that I enjoy attending. However, I wanted mine to be open to anyone with an interest in travel and world cultures, regardless of profession or frequency of travel. I also intended to keep them small, so that all guests could easily interact.

Following the blog’s 3rd anniversary and introduction of #JAchat on Twitter in late 2013, I was ready to launch JA Café.

JA Cafe


All Chicago meetups have taken place at Julius Meinl, a Viennese coffee house with a 150-year tradition. When I first had the Café idea, there was no other spot I wanted as event ‘headquarters,’ for several reasons.

I had been a regular at Meinl for a long time. I remember walking in there the first time and feeling… at home. The layout reminded me of a café in my hometown near Krakow, Poland. A corner entrance, pastry counter in the front room, a few round tables for two, bench seating in the back. There were also other familiar Old World touches: wooden coat racks (just like at grandma’s) and newspaper holders on the wall.

Coffee at Meinl is up my alley too. It’s strong, brewed with care, and served on a silver tray with a cookie and glass of water. My favorite to this day is Melange – a classic Viennese drink similar to cappuccino, dusted with cocoa powder.

Another reason I chose to host JA Café at Meinl was practical: table service. Not having each attendee get up to place an order allows the conversation to flow better.

Julius Meinl Coffeehouse, JA Café’s Chicago headquarters

Julius Meinl Coffeehouse, JA Café’s Chicago headquarters


Since the launch of the series, I had wanted to host meetings in different cities, both in the United States and abroad. Social media has made it possible.

As a blogger, I’m introduced to a lot of people online, and in-person meetings often follow. JA Café works the same way – I can get a group together even in cities I’m visiting for the first time, where I only have ‘virtual’ friends.

Such was the case in Paris, Toronto and Ljubljana (in Slovenia, I got help from my fellow bloggers and trip buddies, The Travel Mob). The first international JA Café, however, was a bit different.

JA Cafe Ljubljana

Ljubljana (June 2014)

JA Cafe Toronto

Toronto (September 2014)

JA Cafe Paris

Paris (March 2015)

It took place in my hometown Krakow and was therefore attended by family and friends (even one from high school), and just a handful of online acquaintances. It felt more like a reunion than a networking event, and ranks high among my favorite JA Café moments.

JA Cafe Krakow

Krakow (June 2014)


Another special evening was the December 2014 event in Chicago, which marked JA Café’s one year anniversary.

I was happy to see a few regulars and friends who had attended the very first meeting (including my #JAchat co-host, Francesca of the Working Mom’s Travels). It was great to catch up and find out where everyone had traveled since we last spoke.

We also had a few first-timers in attendance, plus a special guest. Chicago historian and beer researcher Liz of History on Tap raffled off a tour and later led the after-party at a local pub. I joke that this is as close at JA Café will get to becoming Travel Talk Over Beer…

One year of JA Cafe

1st anniversary in Chicago

One year of JA Cafe

Party people!


Chicago events will continue every six weeks. As for other cities, there are several on my JA Café wish list: San Francisco, New York, London, and Vienna (perhaps a meeting at the original Julius Meinl location is in the cards). I also hope to bring the event back to Krakow and Toronto, two places that I visit once a year.

Other locations are up in the air. As long as there is good coffee and fellow travelers to share it with, I’ll take JA Café to my next destination. Live music might be involved too.

I recently started JA Media, a communications company specializing in event promotion and artist management. The launch party was a bigger version of JA Café and featured an acoustic performance by singer/traveler Mike Mentz (see my interview with Mike here). This gave me an idea to host music events more often.

Stay tuned on all things JA Café by subscribing to the Event Calendar. I hope to meet you down the road!

JA Party

‘Travelpop’ singer Mike Mentz performing at JA Media launch

(Photos: Jetting Around & Travel in Pixels)

By | 2015-05-19T21:45:37+00:00 March 31st, 2015|Event Blog|51 Comments

About the Author:

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.


  1. avatar
    Mucha w sieci April 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

    And that was a great idea! The atmosphere must be awesome – I’d love to participate in one event :)
    Mucha w sieci recently posted..Afiyet olsun, czyli tureckie jedzenie w kilku zdaniachMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 1, 2015 at 8:01 pm

      I hope we’ll get to meet at one of those!

  2. avatar
    Asia | Byłem tu. Tony Halik. April 1, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Wow, amazing idea and what’s even more amazing – that you were able to gather so many people around you. Hope one JA Cafe meeting will happen in Warsaw one day and we could join. And I wish you good luck with JA Media!
    Best, Asia
    Asia | Byłem tu. Tony Halik. recently posted..Kanji tygodnia: lekarstwo (薬)My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 1, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Another vote for Warsaw, I see. You ladies are really making me think about heading over there! Maybe next time I fly to Krakow, I’ll have to do a stopover in Wawa. :) Dzięki za miłe słowa, Asia.

  3. avatar
    Aleksandra - April 1, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Great idea! I can’t wait till JA Cafe will reach Warsaw! (It will, won’t it..?) And the idea with the live music? Amazing!
    Aleksandra – recently posted..3 miejsca, których nie widziałaś w BerlinieMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 1, 2015 at 7:56 pm

      I think Warsaw is very likely! I’ve been thinking about a visit for a while, plus it looks like you have a great community of bloggers and travelers there.

      • avatar
        kami April 2, 2015 at 12:14 am

        good to read I’m not the only one recommending Warsaw! You definitely need to come here Pola and we will gladly join JA cafe, I can assure you of that! :)
        kami recently posted..Gallery with pictures of Porto, PortugalMy Profile

        • avatar
          Jetting Around April 2, 2015 at 3:21 pm

          Well then, it just has to happen! And we’d finally get to meet in person. :)

  4. avatar
    Fiona April 2, 2015 at 1:35 am

    Love this idea – congratulations on the one year anniversary! Was great meeting you in Dublin for coffee!
    Fiona recently posted..A Tour of Irish WWI Sites in FlandersMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks, Fiona! It was lovely to hang out with you. Maybe I’ll be back in Dublin and then do JA Cafe there. :)

  5. avatar
    Mike Mentz April 3, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Keep rockin, JA.

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 3, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Merci, monsieur travelpop. :)

  6. avatar
    Traveling Ted April 4, 2015 at 11:26 am

    That looks like my buddy Lanora in Paris and Will in Toronto. The stars come out when JA café rolls into town.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..A Blackwell Forest Preserve cross country skiing sunset adventureMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:26 am

      It’s them alright! And I think Traveling Ted needs to come again. ;)

  7. avatar
    Elaine J. Masters April 4, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    Pola the powerhouse, so glad that your cafes have been a success. I hosted travel meetups for years but it’s the gatherings with fellow travel writers that really warm my heart. Let me know if you come through San Diego and would like to set up a cafe here.
    Elaine J. Masters recently posted..Best of Munich – Family sized, private lofts and apartmentsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:23 am

      Hi Elaine. I’d love to go back to San Diego and have a meetup there! I’d love to meet and share travel stories.

  8. avatar
    Anna April 4, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Wrrr, I don’t wanna read about it, I wanna finally attend! Just kidding, I obviously want to read about it and I hope that I can finally attend one of your JA meet-ups somewhere :)
    Anna recently posted..How I afford to travel: now & before I was a bloggerMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:23 am

      London! Let’s do this. :)

  9. avatar
    Connie Reed April 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I live only about 50 miles from Chicago. I’m going to try to make one of the Chicago events. Sounds like fun!
    Connie Reed recently posted..Farmers Market of the Ozarks: A Foodie’s Gold MineMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:22 am

      Hi Connie – great to hear from someone in the area! Hope to meet you at one of the upcoming Chicago meetups.

  10. avatar
    Beth April 5, 2015 at 11:42 am

    What an awesome idea! That coffee shop in Chicago sounds like the perfect place for a casual meet up. You must be very proud of how this is turning out. :)
    Beth recently posted..Gather Round The Table: French CuisineMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:19 am

      Hi Beth. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year! Glad to connect with so many travelers in person.

  11. avatar
    Erin Marie April 5, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I’ve always loved this concept. Really hoping I can make it to one of them. I’d even just love to grab coffee with you one of these days. xx
    Erin Marie recently posted..Starting Your Own Travel Blog.My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:18 am

      Hey Erin, NYC is high on the list for JA Cafe. But I’m sure we’ll meet again soon enough and then… coffee! :)

  12. avatar
    Andrea April 6, 2015 at 6:31 am

    Having just joined JA Chats over the past few months I can honestly say that it is one of my favourites. A great way to meet new people and talk travel. Congratulations on one year, and hope to one day meet up with you somewhere halfway across the globe!
    Andrea recently posted..10 Books I’m Currently Wanderlusting OverMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 7, 2015 at 12:17 am

      Thanks, Andrea! Glad you enjoy #JAchat, and I’m sure it would be fun to meet.

  13. avatar
    Clare April 8, 2015 at 2:07 am

    I’ve always loved the idea of JA Cafe and I’m excited about the possibility of Liverpool! I hope I’ll finally get to say hello over coffee!
    Clare recently posted..What to Wear on Holiday When You’re Pregnant – My Summer EssentialsMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 8, 2015 at 2:16 am

      Hi Clare. It would be great to meet you in person! :) I’ll be in touch when I have Liverpool details.

  14. avatar
    Maaike April 11, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Such a lovely idea! I’ve grown up with meetings with travelers, as my mother joined Virtual Tourist at the time, a website for travelers, which stimulate meet-ups everywhere in the world. I was in so many already (ranging from smaller ones with just a few people to ‘Euro-meets’ that can lead up to meeting 50-100 people in one weekend) and met so many amazing people this way, all over the world. I love to see that others are organising similar events, and I’d would like to attend a JA Café in the future when the opportunity arises.
    Maaike recently posted..Best London Views – For free #2My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 12, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Maaike! Thanks for sharing this story. You must have so many great memories from the meetings your mom organized. I hope we’ll get to meet one of these days at JA Café, perhaps in your area?

  15. avatar
    Maaike April 13, 2015 at 2:06 am

    My mum didn’t organise these meetings, but I went with her a lot of times. I became a member myself around age 12. VT is owned by TripAdvisor now, and I’m not on it anymore, except for when I want to sign up for a meeting. That would be lovely :)
    Maaike recently posted..5 Reasons Why You SHOULDN’T Visit CardiffMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 13, 2015 at 3:00 am

      Gotcha! Thanks for clarifying. :)

  16. avatar
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) April 17, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    one word – awesome, not just because i love coffee or chatting with fellow travelers, but awesome because you’ve created something wonderful here. I hope my next time in Chicago correlates with a special event. I believe i may be there in early-mid June.

    Stay JA-ing, Craig
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted..The 31 States of the United Mexican StatesMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 17, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Hey Craig, thanks so much for this note! As for June in Chicago, I’m planning an event around that time and hope you’ll be able to attend. If not, JA Cafe will make it to NYC one of these days, I know it. :)

  17. avatar
    The Adventure Ahead April 19, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    What a fun way to network :)

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 19, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks! Perhaps you’ll join us at a future meetup. :)

  18. avatar
    Kate April 20, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    It looks like you all have a great time meeting up. I’ve just started organising Travel Massive events in my hometown and getting other bloggers and people passionate about the region and travel together. Its small right now but a really nice group. Thanks for sharing and I hope you have fun in the future with your events
    Kate recently posted..Warkworth Castle, NorthumberlandMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around April 21, 2015 at 1:26 am

      Good luck with Travel Massive, Kate! I’ve been to a few local meetups in Chicago – it’s always fun to get together with other travelers.

  19. avatar
    Meg Jerrard April 21, 2015 at 2:35 am

    Pola let me know if you ever end up in AUstralia – I don’t drink coffee but I’m always up for a hot choc :D!
    Meg Jerrard recently posted..Exotic Travel Destinations You May Want To ConsiderMy Profile

  20. avatar
    Danuta/boliviainmyeyes May 15, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Great idea to meet people and exchange experiences! I like that you actually meet in a caffe too. I’ve only gone to international meetings in a restaurants or pubs, but these places aren’t realy fit for everybody:)
    Danuta/boliviainmyeyes recently posted..The Season of the Bolivian Mandarines *** Sezon na boliwijskie mandarynyMy Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around June 8, 2015 at 1:16 am

      Thanks, Danuta! I’ll take a cafe over a pub any day. :)

  21. avatar
    Monika May 15, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    What a great idea – it must be fun to meet so many people in so different places!
    Monika recently posted..Why is long-term travel not for me?My Profile

    • avatar
      Jetting Around June 8, 2015 at 1:12 am

      Lots of fun! I recently hosted more impromptu events in Liverpool and Nashville, just because I had connected with some people on Twitter. Funny how that works…

  22. avatar
    Darek May 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    The same here – I love that idea! We have a few great cafés down here in Cieszyn as well, maybe it’s time to activate local fellow travellers…

    • avatar
      Jetting Around June 8, 2015 at 1:11 am

      I’d love to go back to Cieszyn, it’s been a while…

  23. avatar
    Sądecki Włóczykij BLOG May 17, 2015 at 5:13 am

    You should for sure come back to Cracow for one more time:-)

  24. avatar
    Steven May 17, 2015 at 10:48 pm

    I’ll throw out 2 Southern locales: Atlanta, GA, and Birmingham, AL. The South may not be known for its coffee houses, but the food is amazing.

    • avatar
      Jetting Around June 8, 2015 at 1:03 am

      After a recent trip to Nashville, I’d like to see more of the South and host a meeting somewhere. Thanks for the suggestions, Steve!

  25. avatar
    Event recap: Meaningful Travel: What, Why, How November 17, 2015 at 12:43 am

    […] you are familiar with Jetting Around, you may have noticed that I like to throw parties. There is JA Café: Travel Talk Over Coffee, intimate meetups for travelers in Chicago (my home base) and other cities I visit. JAM Session is […]

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