What is Urban Exploration and How Can I Do it Legally?

what is urban explorationWhat is Urban Exploration?

Urban exploration involves finding abandoned, overgrown and ruined locations that are being overtaken by nature or crumbling due to neglect. Often that exploration involves taking pictures and recording video of the abandonment.

Types of Abandonments for Exploration

  • Drains
  • Utility Tunnels
  • Abandoned Buildings
  • Sewers
  • Rooftops
  • Basements

Most adult urban explorers are not there to vandalize the property. In fact, the urbex credo is “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints.”

There’s still a very real possibility that an urban explorer could be arrested for trespassing or have to pay a fine if caught.

This fact has kept me from really exploring around my city. Who wants to get arrested like a vandalizing teenager tagging buildings with a can of spray paint?

Not me.

Recently, I heard about a legal way to explore abandoned buildings that are actually historic sites. Sadly, some historic sites have become run down and dilapidated. There’s no thrill of discovery associated with these sites, but there’s no tickets or handcuffs, either.

urban spelunkingHistoric Sites for Urban Spelunking

Not every historic building has shiny floors and clean windows. You can still have that thrill of discovery if you find a historic site that can be explored like an abandonment. You can find information from the local historic society regarding buildings that are available to visit.

Permission for Urbex

Once you’ve found something to explore, check with the local property office in your city hall. You can find registry of deed information that will reveal the owner’s name. Contact that person to see if you can explore the property. If you contact them in person, you’ll be able to sign any releases or waivers for exploration.

Call it Photography

It can be fun to find out the history behind a building before you visit. When you ask permission from the owner, it’s best to call yourself a photographer. As long as you have a camera, that’s in fact, what you are. And it’s easier to understand than urban explorer.

Arrange a Tour

While you might not love this option for exploration, it’ll get you on the property. You’ll be gaining valuable information about the site as well as the architecture and history. Talk to the owner or a preservation group about tours of the property.

Be Respectfulurban exploring

After gaining permission, don’t bring any tools with you to the site. A hammer or crowbar won’t make a good impression on the owner or preservation society representative. Don’t remove souvenirs from the property, either. You’ll likely ruin it for the next explorer who tries to visit.

Have the Right Gear

When you’re entering a building that is dilapidated, you’ll want to have on the right gear. Heavy boots, a headlamp to keep your hands free, and a waterproof backpack should be among your supplies. If you plan on taking pictures, you’ll need a tripod as well as your camera with various lenses.

Legal urban exploration takes some extra time and removes a bit of the thrill, but there’s nothing exciting about flashing police lights and fines for trespassing.

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4 thoughts on “What is Urban Exploration and How Can I Do it Legally?

  1. I’ve been wanting to explore some buildings where I love but honestly afraid to get caught for trespassing. Going to jail and explaining to my cellmate what i was charged with won’t scare him at all. Thanks for sharing these tips. No worries about jail anymore.

    1. That’s funny. No, your cellmate would not be intimidated by your charges! I’m glad I could help. Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  2. The Significant Other of someone in my in law’s family is into this type of thing, I suspect, although I do not know if he is getting permission or not. I never would try it without permission, myself. I like, especially, the tip of calling yourself a photographer (which is the absolute truth-that is what I would want to do.) And no, I have never done anything like this. I’m not that adventurous!

    1. Most people don’t seem to get permission, but I’m a scaredy-cat! I’d need to make sure I’m not going to get into trouble. Some of the pictures I’ve seen are absolutely incredible. I wish I wasn’t so nervous!

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