Strong travel writing should hook a reader from the very first sentence. Here are six top techniques for opening an accomplished piece of travel writing.
A tried and tested method of opening your travel essay is the anecdote. A short, pithy story that illuminates some of the greater themes or topics in your larger piece, the anecdote is an excellent way to instantly engage the audience. For example, in a piece about bullfighting in Pamplona, instead of a belabored history of the event, an accomplished writer might begin with a brief story of climbing the steps to their viewing balcony and being so anxious to see the running crowd and the angry bulls that they spill wine all over their white shirts. This anecdote foreshadows the bloody festivities to come and highlights the excitement and raucous nature of the event.
Technique #2: State Your Purpose
While this technique may seem a bit dry, sometimes opening with a simple statement of purpose can be very powerful: "I found myself on the coast of Dingle, Ireland to get to the bottom of the mysterious Dingle Bay dolphin story once and for all." Stating your purpose can get the audience on your side and gives them a natural motivation to read on.
Technique #3: Straight From the Local's Mouth
Beginning with a quoted bit of dialogue from a character in your piece can ground your readers into the world of the story right away. After all, is it more powerful to read a description of a former Congolese child soldier or read a memory of that harrowing experience in their very own words?
Technique #4: Set Up the Circle
Strong travel writing offers the reader the feeling of going on a journey, and often nothing is more satisfying than being brought safely back to your starting point at the end. Consider opening with a scene that invites a circular narrative. Opening at the airport, customs, or even the lobby of your hotel gives readers a familiar environment to connect with. After taking them on a tour of your travel, you can bring the writing back to the same setting you started with, giving the piece of polished, book-ended feel.
Technique #5: Sense Memory
What separates amateur from professional writing is often the level of attention to detail. Your job as a travel writer is to bring the world you've experienced to your reader, and one of the best ways to do so is by firmly grounding your descriptions in the five senses. Start off with a sensual ode to the rich coffee and ripe mango you enjoyed for breakfast, the smell of night-blooming jasmine through the window, or the feel of dark mud oozing into your sandals on a daybreak hike through the jungle.
Technique #6: Begin at the Beginning
All good writing, be it travel or otherwise, should focus on telling a clear, tight story. As you craft your travel narrative, beware of starting before the true start of your story. Your readers don't want to hear about you waking up in bed or booking the tickets, unless those details are vital to the story you plan to tell. Figure out a clear beginning, middle, and end for your piece, then start where the action begins.
— Brian Scott