This entry is a part of a series. Check out the rest of the Road Trip Survival Guide for more valuable information.
Legal & Human Dangers of Urban Exploration
It is virtually impossible to do urban exploration without trespassing.
Except (perhaps) in the far reaches of the polar regions or some flyspeck of an island in the Pacific Ocean, there aren’t too many pieces of land on this planet that aren’t owned by someone. Most property is owned by individuals (such as residential property) and corporations (such as commercial and industrial property). If a property owner dies, then their probate estate owns the property until the estate is resolved and transferred to new owners. Property not owned by a private entity is owned by a public one – some form of federal, state, or local government body. While a lot of public property is – as its name would suggest – open to the public, government bodies can regulate and restrict access to its property just like private entities can.
Some places are tourist-friendly and made open to the public. If you want to play it safe and straight, you can research the owner of a property you want to explore and ask permission to enter it. But that’s an awful lot of work, and they might say “no”. And as anyone will tell you, it’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.
Many people believe they have a right to defend their property with deadly force. Although deadly force or assaults are extreme and rare reactions, you need to be alert to such reactions and threats. Fortunately, the more likely consequences of trespassing will be a scolding, police harassment, or arrest.
It’s not just the homeowners or the police that you have to worry about, either. Over-protective neighbors may decide to take matters into their own hands. You might encounter squatters – and while they might not legally own the property yet, they may be prepared to defend their squatting claim. Or you might encounter vandals, thieves, drug dealers, or any other number of unsavory individuals.
At the end of the day, the name on the deed matters less than finding property that clearly nobody gives a shit about. Explore buildings in areas that are completely abandoned. Areas so remote that there’s not another human being within eyesight in any direction.
Environmental Hazards of Urban Exploration
Some structures are more dangerous than others, but most will have some form of environmental hazard. Common environmental hazards include…
- Floors that no longer have the molecular consistency of a floor.
- Roofs that no longer have the molecular consistency of a roof.
- Collapsing foundations, failing support beams, and other weakened support structures.
- Broken Glass
- Busted Wood
- Exposed Nails & Screws / Tetanus
- Feral Animals / Rabies
- Ticks / Lyme Disease
- Toxic Molds
- Lead Paint
Precautions and Equipment
The single best precaution you can take is to never urbex solo. Always go with one or more friends. That way, if one of you becomes injured, trapped, or incapacitated, the other person can call for help.
If you are unable to find a travel partner, then set up a check-in procedure with a friend at home. Check in at predetermined times throughout the day. Make sure that you have a contingency in place for if and when you have no cell phone service. Should you fail to check in, instruct your friend to notify the police that you have gone missing. They should also be able to provide the police with your last check-in time, your last known location, and your complete itinerary.
Carefully observe the area you wish to explore and try to ascertain whether it is uninhabited and – if inhabited – just how populated it is. Do you see any people at all? How many? Where are they? What are they doing? Do you see any traffic into, out of, or through the town? What are the road conditions like? Are they passable? How many structures are clearly abandoned (boarded up, or cracked wide open)? How many nearby structures are in good enough condition that they might be inhabited? Are there any signs of nearby commerce, such as a gas station, bar, or restaurant?
Keep your head down, keep a low profile, and don’t do anything to attract unwanted attention. Move into structures slowly and carefully. Always be on alert, and keep your eyes and ears open for potential hostiles.
You should consider bringing certain equipment along with you in case you find yourself trapped or in some other form of emergency. This equipment is not a license to vandalize property or to forcibly break into and enter a building. You should use things like crowbars and bolt cutters only in an emergency and as a last resort, and use them in a manner that minimizes damage and destruction to property.
- First Aid Kit
- Cell Phone
- Plenty of Water
- Bolt Cutters
- Boots with Solid Soles
Have I missed anything? How do you stay safe when you engage in urban exploration? Do you have questions? Do none of these solutions work for you because of specific circumstances that I haven’t considered? Whatever you’re thinking – I would love your feedback! Help me make this Road Trip Survival Guide the best it can be.