The story behind Jetting Around’s meetups for travelers in Chicago and beyond
HOW IT CAME TO BE
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.
THE COFFEE SHOP
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.
JA CAFÉ ON THE ROAD
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.
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.
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…
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!
(Photos: Jetting Around & Travel in Pixels)