While specific detail will always mark any good travel lead, you needn’t feel tied to a straightforward descriptive introduction to your article.
You can beef up and vary your leads by adding a surprising fact, a quote, or by getting right to the “so what,” of your piece — assuming it’s something your audience will find particularly compelling.
Here are three simple ways to go beyond straight description and write leads that really grab a reader…
1) EMPLOY STATISTICS (which can beef up an argument you’re making, add credibility to your claim, and help your reader understand, immediately, why your article is relevant).
In his article about exploring Honduras’ Caribbean coast (Caribbean Travel & Life, December 2000, page 92), Jon Kohl includes some numbers to help give a certain gravity to his lead and help his reader better understand what kind of adventure these travelers face:
“The clouds break and a mountain peak appears: Pico Bonito, all 7,988 feet of it, looks over us like a giant Gulliver as we gaze up from our vantage point in downtown La Ceiba, a port city on Honduras’ Caribbean Coast.
“My friends from the United States have one day remaining in their visit, and we drool at the prospect of conquering the centerpiece of Pico Bonito National Park, which boasts no fewer than 46 rivers coursing down its façade and sprouts up just five miles from the beach.”
2) ASK A QUESTION (which can, if the question is intriguing enough, catch your reader off guard and draw him into your article).
Writer Dana Hawkins opens a discussion about privacy in hotels (National Geographic Traveler, March 2001, page 24) with this provocative query:
“Hotel room guests scrutinize themselves in full-length mirrors, watch TV from bed, and blink drowsily at the alarm clock. Who would guess these staples of lodging quarters might be staring back?
“It can — and occasionally does — happen. Any hotel manager interested in gathering evidence of employees pilfering from guests can easily buy and install a hidden camera for under $150 from the local Radio Shack. Of course, the same tape that catches a maid red-handed may also inadvertently record guests in flagrante delicto.”
3) MAKE YOUR ARGUMENT RIGHT UP FRONT (which immediately allows your reader to understand your point of view and provides a clear road map for where you’re going with your article).
You’ll probably find this technique most useful in a round-up article or in a piece that’s meant to offer straightforward advice. Look at these two examples, for instance, which — though they provide ample detail to entice a reader into the body of the article — also get right to the point.
Melissa Kirsch quickly leads her readers into her discussion of five unusual spas (“More than Massage,” National Geographic Traveler, March 2001, page 20) by coming out and saying up front exactly what she’s going to profile.
“Blame it on the economy or a post-millennial fixation on stress elimination, but the spa boom, a $5.3 billion industry in the U.S. alone, continues unabated. Some 10,000 spas are expected to open worldwide in the next four years, including Canyon Ranch at Sea cruises, billed as the world’s first floating health resort. Spas are also reaching out to more people. At the Ocean Point Resort in southern Florida, there are even massages for babies. For those weary of the standard fare, we’ve assembled some alternatives.”
And in an article about several Out Islands in the Bahamas that I wrote for International Living (February 2001, page 1), I rely on a few telling details to draw my reader in… but then I quickly turn to the “so what” of my piece by telling readers exactly why I’m writing about this destination. I lay out my argument right up front.
“Talcum-powder fine and deserted, the beaches on Long, Cat, and San Salvador are some of the most spectacular in the Bahamas. indeed, in all the Caribbean. On these three, long-overlooked Out Islands, the waters are baby blue and azure and so clean and clear that, standing on the hillsides, you can see meters deep.
“That alone would be reason enough for me to recommend you visit. But these islands have much more to offer: They are safe, easily accessible by plane, near to the United States, and home to a friendly, English-speaking population.
“What’s more, property prices are astoundingly affordable — you can own a quarter-acre of beachfront for less than $46,000 or a hillside lot with an ocean view for as little as $15,000. And between now and June 2002, special building incentives allow you to import all your construction goods duty free — which means you save as much as 35 percent on your building costs.”
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]