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Guest post by Lani: Plant-strong in Panama: How to travel anywhere in the world and easily stick to your plant-based diet

Lani was off in Panama (hmm, she didn’t invite us to come with her ;) ) She has some great tips to share about traveling and living plant-strong.


When Natala’s blog post 5 Tips for Small Town Living went up on the Daily Beet here at Engine 2 Diet late January, Greg and I were just settling into our digs on a small island in Panama where we were tropical snowbirding for a couple of weeks.   As a matter of fact, we had just returned to the house at which we were staying from market with our food stash for the week ahead.   And like Natala’s experience, I’ve found that the simpler you get with your plant-strong diet, the simpler becomes the shopping.  The game just changes a little bit when you’re out of country.

‘Going to market’ on Bastimentos Island means traveling down the gravel road to the Red Frog Marina, flagging down a boat taxi, and taking a 20 minute boat ride to Bocas Town.  From there it’s find Oliver’s produce market, and track down small mercado or two for beans, rice and salsa.  And if you’re lucky, the bakery will still have some bread left when you get there.

We don’t have any wheels in town here so everything needs to be carried in our backpacks, shoulder bags, and gripped in our hands.   Oh, and you’ll need a 3rd hand for the umbrella required by the intermittent rain. So as the shopping excursion nears its end, just count on getting your shower au naturelle.

When you are plant-strong folks like us, a market haul is a weighty and sizeable affair.  Non-processed foods don’t come in small packages.  We should have taken a picture of our load as we headed back to the boat taxi, but your imagination will have to suffice.   Rest assured that  as we minimize trips to town, we stock up on all we needed for a week.  Because that’s all we can carry.  If we could carry the food for 2 weeks, we would.

This particular shopping trip we came back with:

  • 2 pineapples
  • 2 giant papaya
  • 4 bananas
  • 20 potatoes,  including several of a local variety the kind of which I had never seen before yet scored high on the yummers scale
  • 16 squash (I don’t know what they are called here, an interesting variety I only find south of the border)
  • 12 tomatoes
  • 4 cabbages
  • 5 heads of lettuce
  • 2 onions
  • a dozen carrots
  • bag of rice (actually found brown! I travel with a starter bag yet that was about gone so glad to find this)
  • meusli
  • vindaloo curry paste
  • 2 jars of salsa verde
  • 2 bags of lentils
  • bag of  black beans
  • 3 loaves of bread
With a little creativity, I was able to create some savory sauces for the rice and potatoes with the lentils, salsa, and curry.   Tomato sandwiches are a favorite so we had those every day, along with either chopped lettuce or chopped cabbage as a salad.  We found a fat-free salad dressing that we were able to stretch as another seasoning.  I also brought some dried hummus mix along that served as sandwich spread and dressing or sauce as well.
The rules for remote travel when it comes to keeping your healthy plant-based diet alive are pretty basic:
  1. Bring some staple basics with you that will get you started.  For me this is rolled oats and brown rice.
  2. Ask where the nearest best supply of fruits and vegetables can be found. If you are way off the beaten track, you will be able to find a small bottle of bleach if you need to clean veggies and fruits with skins.  If not, you can peel them.  Pouring boiling water over tomatoes makes the skin slip off like sunburn.
  3. Do some recon work in a couple of markets in addition to the produce locations.  I always go with a list to look for what available supplies there are in terms of beans, rice, salsa, and oats.
You can travel anywhere and stay plant-strong.
We’ve traveled to places all over the world the past several years and not once have had to succumb to the only thing on the village restaurant menu of fish, beef, or default to chunks of cheese.  A little planning and a simple menu will get you where you want to go without ditching your glorious plant-based food plan.
We came through our Panamanian adventure plant-strong with only one mishap.  I scorched an entire pot of black beans because I was absorbed in my response to a question on my column at the Dr. McDougall Health and Medical Center.  True story.
Have you overcome food stash and eating challenges while traveling in unique or creative ways that you can share?  Please do!  And if you are planning some travel, whether domestic or abroad, and would like a few tips from the experience of a fellow plant-food planet traveler, please post your questions!




Lani Muelrath is a plant-strong fitness expert! Lani is the creator of The Body Transformation Formula and Fit Quickies™ 5 Minute Workouts. She has a Master’s Degree in Physical Education and over 30 years of experience as a teacher, coach, and trainer. She has received awards for her instruction, created and starred in her own CBS TV Show, and her expertise in the area of health and fitness is called upon by examiner.com, as Fitness Expert for Dr. John McDougall’s Health and Medical Center, coach, Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Kickstart program, and Health and Fitness Lifestyle Expert for Vegan Mainstream.com. She is Certified in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University.

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The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

13 Responses to “Guest post by Lani: Plant-strong in Panama: How to travel anywhere in the world and easily stick to your plant-based diet”

  1. Jenni says:

    I just got back from Mexico! We had a little vacation condo thing it was great! You guys will get a kick out my story though. We didn’t have a lot of kitchen stuff, I didn’t have my vita mix or some other fancy stuff that I own at home. I was freaking out that I would not be able to eat with out the tools! Wouldn’t you know that I learned how to make so much better dishes WITH OUT all the tools!? I also skipped my normal smoothie in the morning, and my blood sugar magically started coming down! A week later I realized that maybe you guys were right about the smoothie thing (I was in the pro smoothie camp all the way). Yeah, so my morning sugars after a week with out my vitamix went from 154 to 92! I was eating pretty much the same stuff I was eating at home but nix on the smoothie. So I get home, and I thought well maybe it was the sun or something, NO! My blood sugar numbers are still doing great with out the vitamix smoothie in the morning! Maybe I’ll sell my vitamix and use the money to go back to mexico! lol.

    Thought you all might enjoy that story. Now I’m having oats and fruit for breakfast and I feel so much better, morning sugar was 89 this morning! UNHEARD OF!!

    Thanks a bunch!

    • Jenni, absolutely I love your story and now I have to ask, may I quote you in a new article upcoming? Your experience with simplifying things has tremendous value.

      And congratulations on not letting a little bit of 3rd world country madness get in your way! Actually, one of the reasons I aspired to the eating style I now have is because I wanted it to be easy for travel while keeping me healthy at the same time. Just get a little creative, as you demonstrate, and there you have it!

      let me know,


      • Jenni says:

        SURE! I’m afraid people will jump on me with pitch forks if I say anything online, I have to admit I was one of the angry people! lol goes to show you, huh??

        • That’s OK Jenni, we are all defensive about our chosen paths and habits and knee-jerkiness is just part of the process. That’s another reason why coming forward with your change of heart is so helpful – it will be to others who may benefit from your experience.

          Thanks for permission to use your story! You rock.


  2. Lynnette says:

    I will be traveling to Shanghai for work and staying at a hotel for a week. I would love tips on staying plant strong and avoiding oils.
    Breakfast is a full buffet of options at the hotel; I usually stick to the fruit, but need some carbs. There are lots of pastries but no whole grain breads.
    Lunch is at restaurant with work, with lazy susan of options picked by the manufacturing guys. I chose the vegetable selections and probably take more than my share of the watermelon that comes at the end. But I am sure there are oils in the dishes.
    Dinner is usually ex-pat type restaurants picked by traveling companions who are looking for meat & beer. I try to pick sides and options that are more plant strong. After a bad salad incident a few trips ago I have been avoiding green salads.
    Work travel brings more restrictions that just traveling with family where I can direct the choices. Restaurants in Shanghai are not always as accommodating and there is a definite language/culture barrier with many requests.
    Helpful suggestions would be much appreciated.

    • Lynnette, you’re in luck with some buffets in there. Not always a guarantee, but improves your options most of the time.

      I’d travel with a back of rolled oats or healthy muesli which you can soak to have with buffet fruit. It can serve as an emergency meal at any time.

      If you have to have some white rice now or then I wouldn’t sweat it. Usually when this is served it’s steamed, so you may be in luck there. It sounds like you are returning to a place that you have been before – yes?

      You can also pick up some freeze-dried veggies that you could reconstitute in your hotel room for veggies. I’ve picked some up before at rainyday foods online. There is also instant brown rice you could pack.

      I’ve usually had pretty good luck at ex-pat restaurants. If they are into the steak and the beer they will probably also be into the potatoes – yes? A great default salad veggie I’ve found is cabbage. It’s durable and all you have to do is peel off the outer layers – there’s far less oppoprtunity for any contamination. We ate a lot of cabbage in Panama, and I do the same in the Dutch Antilles and Mexico.

      Take a food peeler with you and I’m betting you can find some carrots. A great standby.

      Pack some McDougall instant soups. With some rice, you have a great meal.

      Hope this helps for starters! Have a wonderful journey!

    • Ninufar says:

      Does the hotel room usually have a way to boil water? Some of the prepackaged brn rice packs (Seeds of Change, Trader Joe’s) work fine if you just let some hot water get on them and sit… I’ve occasionally managed instant rice noodles in a hotel coffee maker as well.

      If you have no options to opt out of the evening meals, bai cha is boiled hot water, e.g. if you bring dehydrated stuff and don’t mind your coworkers watching you mess around with it… I haven’t been to Shanghai yet, but I know lots of folks further south think that brown rice is just bird food. In the west they eat millet… Maybe you can get taro mush if you find a Cantonese restaurant.

      What are the chances that you could bring some grain and buy a low-end rice cooker as soon as you get there? When I do offsite training weeks, I find that a solid breakfast does seem to help me face our dismal lunch offerings.

      okay, I’m rambling, but don’t miss this:

      Definitely bring some Hol-Grain brn rice crackers. They are awful as crackers, but in some boiled water, they become much more appealing (halfway btw mush and pilaf), and they are very light in the luggage!

      Best wishes!

      • Lynnette says:

        Lani & Ninufar,
        These are great ideas. I appreciate the suggestions. I will pack some things to eat in-room for breakfast and pre-dinner. This will help me stay full and stay strong when facing all the other choices.
        I have time to order some things on-line or make a shopping trip.
        I am fortunate to have many good food choices here, but Whole Foods & Trader Joe’s are 3hrs away. We usually make a shopping stop when visiting our daughter at college.

  3. Ninufar says:

    Best tip for getting to eat fruit in developing countries:

    iodine pills. They treat water, and they can treat a sink full of water which *also* contains some delicious fruit.

  4. Kate says:

    Hmmm…my journey started with green smoothies. Lately, I’m having trouble getting them down and considering giving them up. I’m allergic to gluten, oats, and soy, making lots of plant options including muesli unavailable. I now prefer miso soup with rice, dulse, and greens in the morning, using very little miso compared to the amount of water, rice, greens, and seaweed. Grape tomatoes are good here, too. I am not sure if I could travel in a plane with miso, but it works on road trips. And you are right about beans, rice, salsa, and cabbage or other greens. The combinations are endless and every easy to get while traveling. However, I’ve found that most fast food fresh Mex places put tons of oil in their beans. Rice is hard to cook in a hotel. So we stick to warming up cans of beans, pouring them over greens, and topping with salsa. It’s fast, easy and filling. Dessert is easy with fresh fruit out of hand. Instead of wasting time in restaurants, we take walks or swim.

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