There is a certain code of conduct Abandoned World Photography recommends urbexers to follow in order to avoid being arrested and stay out of harm’s way (physically). From the moment you step onto a derelict site, there are a million things that can go wrong. Follow these 15 golden rules of urbex and you should be ok! 🙂
What is urbex?
Urbex is short for urban exploring which is the process of infiltrating abandoned buildings and documenting their state of decay.
Why Do Urbex Rules Exist?
Some people call it urbex, we call it exploring and documenting historical places of public interest, but lots of others call it trespassing – namely the police, site caretakers, and private owners. To be fair, you can’t blame the police and site owners for wanting to deter randomers from exploring abandoned buildings.
They are aware of the physical harm and the fact we could fall down a hole in the floor or be crushed by a roof falling in at any stage of the exploration and in some ways probably feel responsible because the site is theirs to protect and anything that happens on it affects them negatively.
But additionally, gorgeous buildings and their architectural significance are often defaced by ugly spray paint, people steal things, and the structural integrity of the buildings wears down over time.
Often, I have gone into abandoned buildings and every door, window and wall has already been smashed in with what looks like either a fist or a heavy object. I can never understand why people do this. If you want to go around smashing walls do it in your own house or just anywhere else other than a historical building. Aiaiai!!
So, unfortunately, urbexers are having to prove their innocence in the midst of idiots giving us a bad name and we need to act and behave differently to avoid being arrested.
On that note, here are the top 15 rules of urbex every urban explorer should strive to follow!
- Prepare for Entry
If you’re driving to the site, try to park your car somewhere inconspicuous. Try to bring along at least one other person and inform at least one other person who isn’t coming along where you will be and when you expect to be back. Bring a fully charged mobile phone so you can communicate with people outside the site if you should somehow become trapped.
2. Ignoring “No Trespassing” Signs
This sign is kind of like a sign saying “Tasty Food: Do Not Eat”. It presents two very separate ideas but then fails to draw any connection between the inviting statement and the prohibitive statement. If this sign was written in proper English, it would say “There is danger ahead, so do not enter unless of course you like that kind of thing and think you can take care of yourself.” And you do. So go ahead.
3. Take Nothing but Photos and Leave Nothing But Footprints
This is the golden rule of urban exploring. Taking nothing but photos and leaving nothing but footprints means exactly what it says on the tin. We visit abandoned buildings to explore and document their state of dereliction, nothing else. Let’s keep it that way!
4. Don’t Break and Enter
Gaining entry to an abandoned building is the most crucial point of an exploration. Break something on your way in and you’re fucked especially if it’s caught on camera. Your entry point should be a way in that’s already been carved such as an open window, open door etc. If you happen to be a muppet and bring screwdrivers to pry off window boards or use an object to smash a window in or kick a door off its hinges, you’re just an idiot and basically shouldn’t urbexing.
Remember, breaking and entering is illegal everywhere around the world and you won’t be excused if you’re caught. Take your time when entering and wait to go inside until you have found the most accessible entry point that allows you to get inside touching as little of the building as you can. If you need to physically force your way in, call it quits.
5. Respect the Fragility of Abandoned Buildings
Some abandoned buildings have been sitting rotting away for decades, so their interior and exterior structure is extremely fragile. Take care when entering the property so as not to damage anything on the way in and moreso when you’re inside. Tread slowly and carefully and test the ground and walls as you walk through the building. If the floor starts sinking under your feet go backwards and if the roof above your head is soft and caving in, be very careful.
6. Start Off With Small Buildings
Exploring small abandoned buildings is very different to multi-storey buildings. If you’re a first-time urban explorer, I recommend choosing a smaller building to start off with, so you get a proper feel for urbex. It’s a totally different world inside derelict properties and one that should be taken seriously. Get to learn your fears, capabilities and boundaries first before taking on the huge buildings and test your nerves bit by bit.
Furthermore, exploring during the day is very different to night-time. You might think you have nerves of steel, but the reality could be very different once you try it. If you jump in the deep water and take on more than what you’re ready for, you’re opening the door for safety hazards and risks that can end up with injuries, arrests or worse.
7. Don’t Run Away
Running makes us looks guilty so unless you are a twit and are up to no good, don’t run if someone catches you (unless it’s a zombie or ghost). If someone stops you, stand your ground and explain that you’re a photographer. If you have a photography website or social media page, show this to the person who’s stopped you so they can see you’re genuine and speaking the truth. They will likely just tell you to bugger off, in which case, bugger off and come back another time! 😛
8. Bring The Right Equipment
What’s in your bag will determine how much trouble you get into if you’re stopped by the police. I know rules vary from country to country, but these are the safe and essential things we recommend bringing with you: water, a camera, a torch, and a fully charged phone. If you have a media pass, bring it!
I would also recommend bringing some ID just in case something does happen to you and you need to receive help from either a hospital or the police. Bringing ID also implies your intent is honest. Hooligans don’t bring ID because if the police catch them they can’t lie about their name and get out of the arrest. Bringing yours sets you apart and shows you’re not the same as them.
9. Don’t Look Like a Burglar
Bringing the wrong equipment can easily get you arrested for attempted burglary such as gloves, rope, pocketknives, screwdrivers, and any anything else that would aid you in breaking and entering and carrying out theft. Use your common sense and only bring things with you that show you are purely there for taking photographs, nothing else. Also, don’t bring drugs or alcohol but that’s just common sense!
10. Don’t Tell the Neighbours
If a nosy neighbour sees you scaling a wall and asks what you’re doing, don’t tell them you’re there to take photos. Get back down from the wall, back onto the street and walk away (but come back another time). There’s only one way that’s going to end up if you go inside the building – they will call the police and you’ll be caught.
11. Not Every Security Camera is Real
Security cameras are scary there’s no denying it but be aware that not all cameras are real. Many are fake and are merely installed as a fear tactic and deterrent. The cameras you need to worry about are the ones with motion sensors and speakers, which you can recognise from a mile away. They’re generally clunkier and will have a sign beside them saying “24/7 Security Sensor” or something along those lines. If you’re not sure if a camera is real or not, just do a big loop around it and make sure you keep a wide berth between you and the camera. If you let cameras deter you every time you will never be the urbexer you want to be!
12. Maintain a Good Level of Fitness
Strength, speed, balance, and flexibility are what’s going to get you inside and out of an abandoned building, nothing else. If you want to be a serious urban explorer, you’ll need a standard level of fitness and endurance to be able to climb over gnarly walls, jump down from heights, and climb through windows. Additionally, there will be times when you’re only entry point requires crawling through tiny spaces such as a slightly ajar window, steam pipe, air duct, narrow hatch or tunnels that were never built to accommodate people!
13. Move Stealthily and Quietly
No matter how much of a ninja you are, you still need to watch your step and the amount of noise you make. Whether you’re exploring alone or with a group of friends, keep your voices down and tread lightly. Make sure you can hear everything around you such as how creaky the floors are, if there are other people in the building, and if a security car approaches the building.
14. Know When to Hide
In some situations, you might need to find a hiding place if you feel like you won’t be able to explain your presence to someone, or if it’s just someone you want to avoid like a junkie or zombie. Quickly slipping behind a door or machine usually works, just try not to panic, and don’t make noise when you’re hiding (obviously).
If you’re stuck in a tunnel two levels underground and there’s no hiding place and there are footsteps or the sound of keys clanging approaching, turn off your torch lights and stick closely to the wall without making a noise, and hope for the best. Remember, no one actually expects you to be there, so hide for as long as you need to without freaking out and either continue or exit when it’s safe to do so.
15. Enjoy Urbex, YOLO!
Urban exploration is free, fun and hurts no one when done safely. It’s a thrilling, mind-expanding hobby that encourages our natural instincts to explore and play in our own environment. It encourages people to create their own adventures, like when they were kids, instead of buying the pre-packaged kind. And it nurtures a sense of wonder in the everyday spaces we inhabit or pass by that few local history books could ever hope to recreate. I’ve had some of the best moments of my life while exploring, and I can’t recommend the hobby enough. So, go out and have fun guys you only live once!