How To Make It As An Urban Explorer
This article is more than one year old and was last updated in February 2024.
Urban exploration, also known as "urbex," is a popular and growing hobby, partly due to the huge amount of exposure the past time gets on social media, and in particular on YouTube.
Urban exploration provides an opportunity for people to explore and discover places that are off-limits to the general public. It's an exciting way to see something new and unique. It is also a way to learn about and connect with the history of a location. Exploring abandoned or forgotten buildings can reveal a lot about the history of an area and the people who used to live or work there.
It can be hard to find accessible locations, but just about any forgotten or abandoned building or manmade space will do. This can include hospitals, schools, and other buildings that have been left to decay. Industrial sites are also very popular, such as factories, power plants and buildings related to transport infrastructure that are often off-limits to the public. Former government buildings and military sites are also very tempting to explorers, anything from abandoned embassy buildings to former airfields.
Some explorers strive to conquer their urban landscape by climbing to the top of tall buildings to get a bird's eye view of the city, as well as scaling bridges and walking tunnels that are not typically seen by the general public.
Urban exploration is not limited to abandoned buildings, and some people also explore active buildings such as skyscrapers, public buildings, hotels and even residential buildings.
Personally, the thrill or urban exploring for me has always been in venturing into the underground. This can include disused underground railway tunnels, huge storm drains, military bunkers, mines and even catacombs. Underground exploration generally focuses on man-made and man-used underground spaces. Therefore urbex shouldn't be confused with the hobbies of spelunking, caving, or potholing, which focus on natural cave systems, although there is some crossover.
I've recently written about my own underground adventures in 'Hidden, Forbidden & Off-Limits', which is available from Amazon now. It features accounts of my visits to formerly top secret bunkers and underground places across Britain, including the legendary tunnels beneath Corsham in Wiltshire. I hope that the book offers a unique perspective, not just about the history of these underground places, but also about my personal adventures, the story of these fascinating places and the people I met along the way.
It's important to remember that, even if a building appears to be abandoned, it is still private property, and accessing it without permission could land you in a spot of bother. The legality of urban exploration can vary depending on the location and the specific laws of that area. In general, urban exploration is considered trespassing, which in the UK isn't a criminal offence. It should be noted that the land owner or a security guard can use reasonable force to remove you. If you refuse to leave, this could escalate into a case of aggravated trespass, and the police can then get involved. Of course, the police are also likely to get involved if you break and enter, or cause any kind of damage to gain access to a location.
It's important to research the laws and regulations of the area where you plan to explore and to get permission before entering any private property. It's also important to be aware of the fact that many abandoned buildings are not safe and can be dangerous, and it's wise to make sure you're aware of the potential hazards.
You might encounter unstable ceilings and roofs, structurally unsound floors, sheer drops, and hazardous materials such as asbestos and poisonous lead paint.
Abandoned buildings are susceptible to moulds and funguses, some of which reproduce by releasing tiny spores into the air. These spores are so small that they have to be magnified hundreds of times before we can even see them. About one in five people are allergic to mould spores, but even those who aren't allergic may be at risk. Some species of mould contain a toxic compound called mycotoxins. These toxins can cause symptoms including headaches, fatigue, coughing and sneezing, and are very dangerous for asthma sufferers. Some moulds and funguses can trigger significant mental or neurological symptoms.
As well as keeping an eye out for potential hazards, you should also ensure that your are prepared for a visit by learning about the layout of the location. This will help you plan your trip and consider any legal or safety implications.
The key piece of advice an urban explorer should adhere to is to never go alone. It's always safer to explore with someone else, and it can also be more fun to have someone to share the experience with. You should also make sure you dress appropriately, including sturdy, closed-toe shoes. Also, make sure you take a torch and have a first aid kit in the car. Be aware of your surroundings, and be prepared to leave if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any point.
Where possible, ensure you have up-to-date maps and plans of the location, have your mobile phone with you and that it is fully charged, and always tell someone where you are going and what time you can be expected back. You might also consider taking a pair of work gloves for protecting your hands, water and snacks, a dust mask or respirator, and a backpack to carry it all in.
Exploring abandoned buildings, hidden tunnels and forgotten places often creates a sense of mystery and intrigue and the feeling of being part of a secret world. However, the aim of most urban exploration is to share their findings with the world.
If your plan is to upload your explorations to a YouTube channel, then you'll need a good quality camera to document your trips. You'll probably also want some kind of stabilisation if you plan to film as you walk around. A gimbal-mounted handheld camera, like the DJI Pocket is a very good option. You might also consider a GoPro or similar action camera with digital stabilisation.
While these cameras are the perfect size and weight for exploring, you might find they have limited capability in low-light conditions or dark environments, so you might want to look for a camera with infrared night vision capabilities. Unfortunately, these don't often have any form of stabilisation built in, so you might need to look at mounting a night vision camera on a gimbal in order to stabilise your footage as you walk.
Capturing great quality video is one thing, getting it noticed is another. Growing a following as an urban explorer can be challenging, especially as it is such a saturated field, but there are several ways to increase visibility.
Consider sharing photos of your trips on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. This can help you connect with other urban explorers, build a following, and promote your video content. Try not to dilute your video views by posting it on multiple platforms, it is best to accumulate all your video views on YouTube for increased visibility. Try to stick to a regular upload schedule, and engage with your followers by responding to comments and messages.
You could also create a blog or website where you can share your photos, videos, and stories, again this can help you connect with a wider audience and build a following. As can joining online communities and forums dedicated to urban exploration, which will also help you learn about new locations.
You should always be respectful of the locations you explore and the people you encounter. Remember that not all locations and experiences are suitable for sharing online, be selective about what you share and always respect the privacy of others and the locations.
Remember to honour the urban explorers' doctrine: Leave no trace. Leave the location as you found it, and don't leave any rubbish or damage behind.
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