There’s nothing like the excitement and anticipation of being a new urban explorer. It’s easy to spend hours online watching urbex videos, chatting in urbex forums and scouting out sites for your next adventure. Ideally, you’ll also pick up helpful information and advice from seasoned urban explorers that can help make your first few expeditions safer and more enjoyable.
Top 10 Tips For New Urban Explorers
To that end, below are 10 tips, tricks and cautionary tales to guide you as you gain experience in the urbex world.
Do your homework
When selecting a site, try to get as much information as you can about the place you’ll be exploring. Conducting a general online search is a good place to start; it can tell you about the history of a building, what it was used for in the past and even when it was abandoned.
Google Maps can give you a sense of the structure and layout of the building, which can be useful for planning your entry and exit. Searching the address on your local property appraiser’s site can also help you determine who currently owns the building and how likely they are to be keeping close tabs on it physically.
Your research should also include an investigation of the trespassing laws in your area so you know your rights as well as what consequences you could face if you are caught. If the property owner catches you onsite, a respectful apology and an offer to leave will usually be enough to prevent further action. If law enforcement nabs you, the same approach may work, but if not, be aware of your rights and have a plan for what to do if you are detained.
Stick to simple sites at first
While sewer systems, mines and other underground infrastructure can be enticing places to explore, they can also be extremely dangerous and require specific safety equipment. It’s best to wait until you’ve acquired some urbex experience before tackling one of these sites.
Even if you’re going with a more advanced partner, you could end up being the weak link that gets both of you in trouble. Start with simple properties like residences or warehouses on your first few outings. The mines and sewers will be there waiting for you once you’re ready.
Bring the proper gear
While urban exploration is a relatively low-entry hobby for urban explorers and doesn’t require a ton of fancy gear, there are a few items you should bring with you on every outing, including a flashlight, water, first aid kit and fully charged cell phone.
Optional items include a lightweight snack, camera and based on the location you’ll be exploring, a respirator mask to protect yourself from dust, mold, asbestos or toxic fumes. A small backpack is ideal for carrying your gear.
In a similar vein, dressing according to conditions is also important for urban explorers. Exploring abandoned sites can be a hazardous pursuit, and the clothes you wear go a long way toward protecting you from injury and keeping you comfortable so you can relax and enjoy yourself.
Wear sturdy shoes or boots, jeans or long pants and work gloves to protect your hands from scrapes, splinters and puncture wounds. You should also wear something you don’t mind getting dirty, torn or otherwise ruined.
Don’t go by yourself
Urban exploration carries real safety risks. Abandoned buildings are often in deteriorating condition, and it’s not unheard of for walls to crumble, floors to collapse or ceilings to cave in. If you fall or are otherwise injured while exploring, you’ll want to have someone with you who can get you to safety or call for help. Urban explorers do die when urban exploring.
You also never know who else you might encounter in an abandoned building. Vacant homes and warehouses are magnets for all kinds of nefarious activity, and drug dealers, vandals, thieves and other criminals probably won’t react kindly if you interrupt their work. Having someone else with you reduces the chances that they’ll make you their next target.
For more information on this, please view our guide: Take A Friend: 5 Great Reasons to Not Go Urbexing Alone.
Make sure someone knows where you’ll be
If you disregard the above advice and go exploring by yourself—or even if you have a partner—always tell someone else exactly where you’ll be and when you expect to be back. That way if something unexpected happens and you aren’t able to call for help, they’ll know to come looking for you (or contact the authorities to start a search).
Be sure the site is truly abandoned
Before you go barging into the building, check for signs that it is indeed abandoned and vacant. Walk around the property and look for these visual clues that the place is clear and (relatively) safe to explore:
- Broken windows or doors
- No lights on inside
- Graffiti painted on the walls or windows
- Tall grass and weeds
- No cars parked on the property
If possible, complete these checks a few times in the days prior to your planned exploration to better reduce your chances of getting caught trespassing.
Go during daylight hours
While nighttime might seem like the best time to explore an abandoned building without being seen, it also raises the danger quotient exponentially. As a beginner, you won’t be familiar with hazards commonly encountered inside a run-down structure, so you’re more likely to get hurt.
Darkness can also heighten your sense of stress and anxiety, making it difficult to completely enjoy the experience of exploring a new place. Consider waiting until you’ve completed a few successful expeditions before attempting an after-dark exploration.
Listen to your gut
Your instincts and common sense are the most valuable tools you’ll take into an abandoned structure. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If a staircase looks like it might not hold your weight, don’t try to climb it.
If you think you see someone inside the house you’re getting ready to explore, assume it’s occupied. While nerves can create “false alerts” in some cases, more often than not, your gut instinct is the right one, and following it can keep you safe and out of trouble.
Don’t take any souvenirs besides photos
Abandoned buildings can be treasure troves of interesting stuff for urban explorers—machines, books, clothes, all the artifacts of daily life—and it can be incredibly tempting to slip something into your backpack as a souvenir. But if every explorer gives in to that temptation, there will be nothing left behind to discover but empty shells of buildings.
Leave everything as you found it and instead take photos to document your journey. You can then share your photos on urbex sites to inspire your fellow explorers. As the urbex adage goes, “Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints.”
Final Thoughts for Urban Explorers
The 10 tips here barely scratch the surface of everything there is to know about urban exploration, but they cover the fundamental information you need to get started. Even after years of exploring, you’ll constantly find yourself learning new things and discovering new sites, making urbex an activity you can enjoy for a lifetime.