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Top 10 Tips for Urban Exploration

by ianz09
fact checked by Alex Hanton

What is urban exploration, you ask? Urban exploration is the act of delving into the darker side of one’s local history, the unknown tidbits that have been obscured by fear, rumors, and time. As civilization encroaches upon nature, there is less and less to explore. Or so we assume.

As society creeps further and further into the dark corners of the woods, the untouchable expanses of desert, and uninhabitable heights of the mountains and the freezing wastelands north and south of us, society also leaves something behind. As we see trees being cut down to make way for a housing development, we also see entire city blocks abandoned, left to the vagrants and the rats. As we see freeways and bypasses carving straight lines from A to B, we leave behind those dark, winding roads, only to be traversed by the inhabitants, the explorers, and lost.

I have spent many nights with my high-beams on, rounding curves and corners only to find things I could never have expected. When you blow off the thin layer of dust, even the dullest towns have dark, twisted tales to tell. But, just as any machete-swinging Livingston wannabe needs to be prepared, so do you. Finding yourself stranded down a forgotten, uninhabited back road can be as frightening as spending the night in a jungle. You may not have to worry about jaguars, but let’s be honest: Where do you think the serial killers dump the bodies?

For those who wish to explore, I have compiled these 10 tips, to make sure you don’t end up in the river with moths in your throat (or in jail for the night. Mom ain’t gonna bail you out forever). And also: Urban exploration and paranormal investigating are not the same thing. However, they often go hand-in-hand. But paranormal investigation is done with the intention of discovering or debunking ghosts, urban exploration is done with the attempt to uncover unknown, and usually unsavory history.




Stop at a gas station, first and foremost. However much gas you have, it isn’t enough. A full tank should do it, just to be on the safe side. Unless you have been to the area before and know exactly how much you will need, assume the worst will happen. Would you rather make it back home with 3/4 of a tank, or sputter to stop in front of the abandoned farmhouse with no streetlights or neighbors nearby?



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Make a drive-thru run to your favorite fast food restaurant. Having something to eat will do wonders. Not only will it make you more relaxed and content, but vanishing your hunger will take care of a major distraction. When you are sitting in your car thinking Dang, I could really go for a cheeseburger, it is very easy to miss that side road to your destination. And that is a great way to take the exit ramp to the straight shot to nowhere.




The vast majority of urban exploration takes place after dark, when we are off work and free to roam in search of history’s lost enigmas. Let’s pretend you ignored 9 and 10. You didn’t fill up, but that is ok because- Damn, you are hungry, you could really use a cheeseburger- you know exactly where you’re going. Cut to an hour later, and you haven’t seen hide nor hair of Turnhere Rd. Oh well, why don’t you just turn around? Hmm, the car seems to be sighing at the tardiness of this suggestion. Wait a minute… it wasn’t sighing, it sputtered and died. But, you brought a flashlight with extra batteries so you aren’t completely screwed. At least you will SEE the serial killer.


Bring a friend

Pa Duryea 1930 Hantz Frank And Friends Vintage Car

This person will be your navigator. You will most likely be driving down windy lanes or derelict neighborhoods, and need to concentrate on where you are going and what is on the road ahead. You never know when a deer or hobo is going to sprint in front of your car. Plus, the extra set of eyes can keep an eye out for turns and hazards, and if one of you gets sleepy, the other can take over driving. Teamwork is awesome.


Stick to familiar areas


But isn’t the point of urban exploration to go where you haven’t been before and discover new things? Yes. BUT, a good sense of direction is key. I am very familiar with my county and those surrounding it. If I got lost, I would be able to very easily find a road or town from which I can find my way home. But if I were to drive to another state, I wouldn’t be able to navigate my way to something familiar, as there is nothing familiar. Situations like these are the worst. It is one thing when you can’t find your destination, a whole other thing when you can’t even give up and go home.


Avoid trespassing


Not exactly easy, but it would be wise to steer clear of private property and condemned buildings. Getting carted off to jail would be a major damper on the night. Also, condemned buildings are condemned for a reason. That hole in second story’s floor isn’t an invisible floor for viewing what lies below, it’s a frigging hole. And if you fall through it, going to the hospital followed by jail would be a much bigger damper on the night. Alas, many of the most interesting places are off limits. If not going simply isn’t an option, try to get the owner’s permission. If you must sneak in, go knowing that you do so at your own risk. I personally avoid trespassing, and do not condone it in anyway.


Invest in a TomTom


Or at least have a good sense of direction. Maps are good too, but may be outdated and won’t list a lot of smaller or unmarked back roads. A GPS navigation system is a useful product to have, and will alleviate much of your stress for item 3.


Expect to get lost

One Way Street

Hopefully when you set out, you are very confident in your ability to get to where you want to go. Confidence is good. But, don’t stake all your claims in confidence. Prepare to get lost. This brings us full circle back to item 10. More than enough gas leaves room for error. Eat beforehand, it may be awhile before that opportunity arises again. Look at road names and addresses as you go. Maybe later, you will recognize a road and remember where it leads. Country roads are windy, and will curve in ridiculous ways. When you are lost, you may recognize the road name you saw on the county highway, and can follow it back. Road signs are your bread crumbs. And in city neighborhoods, pay attention to one-way streets and ‘no outlet signs’. This will prevent hassle when trying to navigate the tight corridors, and will make it easier to give that nosy cop the slip.


Charge your cell phone

Fake Iphone

Many things can go wrong, but at least you can call for help if you need to. Not if your phone dies, sucker. Keep it on the charger long enough to charge it to full battery. Use it sparingly during the trip. Not only is talking and texting while driving dangerous (doubled by it being night time and by being on unfamiliar turf), but this will wear down the battery. You can sacrifice a couple lol’s for that 911 call later.


Bring your spare keys


And keep them on your person, in a tight or deep pocket that they won’t fall out of. The feeling of you stomach dropping out your backside when you realize that you locked your keys in your car is almost as bad as locking your keys in your car. Or if you trip or run, and one set gets lost, you have the other. Come back tomorrow in the daylight, when you actually have a shot at finding them. And remember: On a dark, lonely night, when you are stranded and waiting on help from forever away, the only thing worse than having to wait in your car alone is having to wait outside your car alone.


Bring a camera


Document your findings, maybe you have really found something! Urban exploration can be a very fun experience, and documenting the night’s events keep the memories alive for a long time. Then maybe your kids can pile into a car and take off to find their own mysteries.

fact checked by Alex Hanton