America is full of fascinating things to explore. Most treasures are things that people pass by without taking the time to notice them. Architecture, old neon signs, manhole covers, horse hooks on buildings, and rusted vehicles all have stories behind them. Urban exploration, or urbex, requires a keen eye, patience, and a willingness to learn. An inquisitive mind can make the everyday mundane can become utterly fascinating.
There is another part of urbex that attracts people. It is the possibility of being an urban Indiana Jones and exploring dangerous abandoned buildings. Exploration of abandoned buildings is not an activity for the mentally aloof. There are several weighted factors to consider before entering an abandoned building.
Getting out of your urbex location alive with all appendages intact is your number one concern. Every year a number of urbexers who have failed to take safety precautions wind up on the local news. Imagine this scenario for a moment.
“A (your city) (man/woman) fell (three/four/ten) stories to (his/her) death after walking on the roof of an abandoned (hospital/dorm/factory). The corpse of the young (man/woman) has been identified by dental records as (your name), because wild (wolves/owls/rabbits) consumed (his/her) putrid decaying flesh.”
When a major emergency occurs at an urbex location the public is usually prompted to demolish the place. You have thusly ruined the adventure for everyone. Don’t be that person. You don’t get to defend your actions when you’re dead and The Darwin Awards are always looking for new entries.
Safety measures are largely dependent on the location. In general though you should follow these basic guidelines.
- Jeans are a must. No shorts.
- Proper footwear. Steel-toe boots recommended. Nothing worse than a crushed toe.
- Extra shoes and socks no matter what. You never know what you’re going to step in.
- A long sleeve shirt and a light jacket at a minimum.
- Gloves. I learned this the hard way after getting rust embedded into my hand.
- An LED flashlight to examine rooms blocked from natural sunlight.
- Is your cell phone charged? Do you get coverage in that area?
- A partner to keep a mutual eye on each other.
- Talk about what you’re doing with others. You’ll be greatful IF the authorities find you 36 hours later in an emergency.
- Stay out of unventilated areas.
- Sobriety. This one should self-explanatory.
- A properly stocked first-aid kit.
Most urbex locations are located on property that has a legal owner. The best practice is to obtain permission from the owners prior to your urbex adventure. A firm handshake and a clear statement of your intentions goes a long way. Demonstrate that you have safety in mind and are genuinely curious about learning something new. Leaving contact information is always the best practice. Respecting the property owner and their wishes goes a long way. Getting permission means you are in the clear.
However, most urbex locations fall into categories where the legal owner is either not clear or will never grant permission. Laws vary by jurisdiction and it is your responsibility to understand what those laws are if you choose to break them. Accepting responsibility for your actions is recommended.
DISCLAIMER: I’m no laywertician. Do not argue in court that American Urbex told you it was okay to do anything.
This is where most beginning urbexers stumble. Pay close attention to the following paragraph.
Contribute to the urbex community in a positive manner.
Getting started with urbex can be daunting at first. The key is to find a well documented location (ahem… like some listed on this site) and photograph it. When you get home, upload the photos to your online community of choice. Write a few sentences about what your experience was like. You have to give before you get. When you have established that you are a responsible urbexer who positively contributes to the community it becomes much easier to find locations. Other urbexers are more willing to share information with someone who is established. As your contributions grow, you will have access to more secret locations.
Tap the community for other things too. You will be better prepared if you ask questions like:
- What was your experience at this location?
- What specifically should I look for?
- What is the surrounding area like?
- What is the best way to get in?
- What is the history of this place?
- Do you want to come with me?
Read item number one again. Now imagine your broken body eaten by chipmunks while you are still alive. All your friends will remember you as the guy/girl who was eaten alive by chipmunks. Even your parents will be all like, “Damn. Our son/daughter was eaten alive by chipmunks. What an idiot.” That is why safety comes first… and last.