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Master Class

By Rima Suqi

Portrait of Luis Vargas posing wearing a hat and green jacket

Modern Adventure founder Luis Vargas; Portrait by Christopher Simons

Garden at Daison Park in Osaka, Japan

Paragon’s inaugural trip was to Osaka, Japan, with the founders of 3-Michelin-starred restaurant SingleThread

Luis Vargas’s earliest travel memory is the more than 24-hour drive his family made from Mexico City to San Diego in his mother’s Renault 5 when they immigrated to the United States. He was 5 years old at the time. Flash forward several decades and Vargas, whose TedX talk “Travel More, Buy Less” has more than 1.7 million views, leads a certified B Corp, Climate neutral company that creates luxurious travel experiences for intimate groups. Luxury, for him, is all about access to places and people that others either couldn’t or wouldn’t have. He recently launched Paragon, a collection of exceedingly high-end culinary, creative, and cultural travel experiences hosted by luminaries who “embody the pinnacle of their craft” for small groups of just 8 to 12 guests, each with a give-back component. Paragon’s first trip, to Japan, hosted by the chef-owners of the 3-Michelin-starred Healdsburg, California, restaurant SingleThread, sold out in 24 hours and donated $50,000 to the nonprofit organization Culinary Institute of America. Other experiences include Champagne and Paris with Dom Perignon, hosted by Rusty Rastello (beverage director at SingleThread); Fruili and Venice with Bobby Stuckey (owner and master of sommelier of Frasca Hospitality Group in Boulder, Colorado); and Yucatan and Mexico City with renowned Mexican chef Jorge Vallejo. Vargas spoke to us from his home base in Portland about what he always packs, traveling with kids, and why he still loves a paper map.

Portrait of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum from last year’s Modern Adventure trip to Morocco with chef Nyesha Arrington

A recent Modern Adventure trip to Morocco with chef Nyesha Arrington included a visit to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum

How do you choose where you’re going, and who will lead those trips?
It’s a little bit of art and science. We know that the definition of luxury is access. And we try to connect to the zeitgeist. So, we ask ourselves, what’s happening in the world that is really interesting, what destinations are really evolving, and what’s the narrative arc of the story we want to tell? And from there, where do we have relationships with people who can help us go deeper into a destination and can help up tell that story through passion and heritage?

View of the city from the Conrad hotel Osaka

The Conrad hotel in the heart of Osaka

This year you’re launching “World’s Best Dining by Private Jet,” which seems counterintuitive for a Certified B Corp climate neutral company.
I don’t want to make excuses for it, I take it on the chin. I am really allergic to vulgar displays of wealth, and we are going to offset our carbon. We’re doing the private jet as means to be able to have these extremely extraordinary experiences within a reasonable amount of time.

Tell me more about the give-back component built into each trip.
A great place to visit should also be a great place to live. I believe travel can be an incredible force for good. It’s actually the greatest transfer of wealth from the developed to the developing world. It’s one thing to just write the check, but what I find really moving is to be able to be more surgical and really support the people, the families we visit. I knew when I started my own company that this had to be table stakes, along with becoming a B Corp and climate neutral. As we escalated into Paragon, we were charging what might seem, without context, an egregious price. But, for example, the SingleThread Japan trip resulted in a $50,000 donation to a scholarship fund that will allow students to study the culinary arts in Japan.

Portrait of the Majorelle Garden from last year’s Modern Adventure trip to Morocco with chef Nyesha Arrington

Majorelle Garden in Marrakech

You’ve been to more than 100 countries. What’s on your go-to-next list?
Western Africa is very much a place I want to discover, especially Mali. I love west African music, and Mali is the absolute hub for that. I also saw photos of the Dogon architecture, those mud palaces, and it captured my imagination.

Any under-the-radar destinations you’d care to share?
It’s not exactly a secret, but I’d say La Fontelina on Capri. I’m always surprised when people visit the island without spending a day at this perfect beach. It’s a quintessential Italian Amalfi experience. Sunbathing on the rocks, jumping into the azure water, amazing people watching, walking up the steps to their restaurant and having a sublime seafood lunch in your swimsuit with a crisp glass of Greco di Tufo in your hand… la dolce vita!

What are some things you always pack for travel?
Snacks: I love to have the bars I like, some nuts, and dark chocolate. And my toiletries: face wash, moisturizer, and a scent. I don’t drink coffee, so I always travel with my matcha. And a journal. I also always pack gifts, like our own beautiful Modern Adventure candles. I give them to our friends, our partners, or I’ll leave one for the housekeeper with a note. I think it’s so lovely to bring a little bit of home to share. And I love maps. They help you build a relationship, awareness, and understanding of a place—which you just don’t get if you’re being told “right, left, right, left.”

Portrait of the entrance to the Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Nanzen-ji Temple, Kyoto

Any tips for traveling with kids?
A trip with kids, and obviously it depends on the age of the kids, is not a vacation. It’s a trip. You need to think about meeting them where they live. I’m a big fan of the “hub and spoke” method: rather than moving three times in a week or two-week period, pick a destination, get the kids settled, move slower, and just really explore. Family trips are not about “you,” they’re about “us” and the joy of seeing your kids discover and awaken their senses to beauty, animals, culture is, to me, one of the most gratifying experiences.

Finally, what are some of the bigger lessons you’ve learned from your travels?
As you travel in the world you realize just how much more similar we are than different. It is so humbling, and connecting with that truth—what we value, what it means to be human—is really profound. Also, it’s important to challenge your comfort levels, to reach into your briefcase of courage and do things that will feel uncomfortable, because the rewards are worth it.



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