Effective data forwarding in Delay Tolerant Networks (DTNs) is challenging, due to the low node density, unpredictable node mobility and lack of global information in such networks. Most of the current data forwarding schemes choose the nodes with the best cumulative capability of contacting others as relays to carry and forward data, but these nodes may not be the best relay choices within a short time period, due to the heterogeneity of the transient node contact patterns. In this paper, we propose a novel approach to improve the performance of data forwarding in DTNs by exploiting the transient node contact patterns. We formulate the transient node contact patterns based on experimental studies of realistic DTN traces, and propose appropriate forwarding metrics based on these patterns to improve the effectiveness of data forwarding decision. When applied to various data forwarding strategies, our proposed forwarding metrics achieve much better performance compared to existing schemes with similar forwarding cost.