Settling Down After Being a Digital Nomad
Blanca Valbuena discovered her own path, cofounding the social dining community of FriendsEat and helping restaurants and companies navigate social media with Social Draft, all while working and traveling as a digital nomad. But after 10 years of globe trotting, she chose to settle down in gorgeous Lisbon. We got a few tips for starter cities and learned more how she found her niche.
Tell us about yourself.
This Jersey Girl decided that the Garden State was simply not big enough for her, so I decided to travel the world. Lucky for me the internet exists and has allowed me to work and have fun as I traveled. My friends and family think I’m nuts, but I say there’s nothing wrong with a little insanity in life.
You call yourself a “recover digital nomad.” What does that mean to you?
After traveling full time for 10 years, you get tired of the small inconveniences of traveling. Things like arriving at an Airbnb to an uncomfortable bed, uncertain internet. Getting haircuts from random people is a chore, finding a decent hair stylist while you travel and communicating what you want in different languages can really be a risky move. Finding a gym that will give you a short term membership, that kind of thing.
I fell in love with it Lisbon in 2014 when I first visited and kept going back year after year. I finally decided to settle in Lisbon, but Paris and Rome were a close second and third. Lisbon is now my home base while I do “light” travel. I’m not always dragging around luggage and staying at Airbnbs, but I'm taking shorter trips that allow me to get back to my very comfortable mattress and ridiculously fast internet.
What was your favorite part about traveling and working?
Traveling allows me to get out there and meet new people, both locals and other nomads like myself. I’ve actually made tons of friends following this lifestyle throughout all parts of the world. Some of my favorite people include a Medici Princess, the owner of the Dali museum in Beaune, and Troy who runs the absolute best Airbnb in the world.
What are some good starter cities for a beginner digital nomad?
There are three I highly recommend. I would definitely say Lisbon. The city is pushing tech, there are plenty of coworking spaces—one of the reasons I love the city—and it is simply beautiful.
Milan is fantastic too. Not many people think of it as a place to be a digital nomad, but the infrastructure is fantastic and evening apertitivo is a great way to get to know people on the cheap.
Medellin has great infrastructure, and the people there are just the sweetest. Although not all places in Colombia are safe, this is a great city to be a nomad and to get to know a little bit of Colombia.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new guy in my life. This is Santino, the Portuguese Podengo we adopted from Pegadas e Bigodes near Coimbra. I’ve learned tons about having a dog in Portugal. If you’re thinking about getting a pup and are going to live in Lisbon, the guide on my blog will help. Just click the link on my profile @blancaval
We love your dog Santino. What’s it like exploring with a dog in tow?
It’s a bit more complicated than traveling solo, but you get a hang of it. Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there like Airbnb and Croissant where you can find dog friendly housing and coworking spaces. Flying can get a little tricky, but he is tiny, so this makes things significantly easier.
How did Friendseat start?
Antonio, my business partner, and I went to a Basque restaurant in Manhattan that had incredible reviews on a few old school paper guides. We went and had a horrible experience. We began thinking how going by “expert” reviews just didn’t make sense. We trusted our friends much more. We decided we’d create a platform where people could share their opinions and get great deals.
Tell us more about SocialDraft? What made you start this additional project and what drew you towards social media as the target?
Socialdraft came about because of FriendsEat. When we added a Facebook login to FriendsEat, our membership soared. We were blown away by just how much social media could help a small business. Restaurants that were members of the site started asking how we were growing so fast, so we started a secondary business offering social media services. We quickly found out we hated baby sitting (SMM is a lot of hard work), and that the tools out there were lacking in features. For example, being able to share calendars with clients for approval...so we decided to create Socialdraft to fit our needs.
We really appreciate how you’ve travelled and built different businesses. What’s been your biggest takeaway with forging your own career path?
The best advice I can give to someone is to learn how to scale your business. I see so many people out there who are charging way too little and doing too much. Learning how to say no and charging your worth will make it so you can scale your business, pick up great tools AND grow your client’s business. In order to do this, you need to be well versed in analytics— prove your worth and you can charge it while putting a smile on your client’s faces.
Do you have a favorite Croissant spot?
So far, it’s IDEIAhub. I usually walk Santino in the morning, drop him off at home, and head to the gym, which is next door to IDEIAhub. It’s super convenient for me. But what I really love about it is the floating chairs, the fish tank & the coffee!