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The Urban Explorer’s Guide to Gently Trespassing 
by Cherie Priest June 10, 2005

Trespassing, or “Urban Exploration” as it is sometimes euphemistically called, has been a hip leisure activity for years. Now this hobby has burgeoned into quite the popular pastime – though as with any field, the influx of trend-surfing amateurs tends to cause problems for the old pros. This article is intended to serve as a rough field guide for those who may be new to this exciting pursuit, but who aren’t sure how to arrange a city safari without risking a night in jail.

Disclaimer: The following is not intended to encourage any illegal acts of any kind. It is a chronicle of learned information acquired over the years through trial and error, and it is related here as a matter of general interest -- not as a field guide to misbehaving. Abuse this information or imitate the author in any untoward fashion at your own risk. In other words, I am not responsible for making your bail.

  • There is a vast chasm of difference between Trespassing and Breaking & Entering. Remember this. If you have to break a window, bust a lock, or pry a door -- you don't need to be there. Sometimes places are heavily boarded and sealed for very good reasons; they may not be structurally sound.
  • Investigate. Look for open windows. Doors that are closed, but not locked. Cellars that are open. Seek a point of entry that does not require forcing. The moment you cause damage to enter a place, you've elevated yourself from "nosy bastard" to "vandal." Don't. Break. Anything.
  • Structural Soundness. Especially if they are very old and/or in a warm, humid climate, buildings in the south are prone to roof problems sometimes; and once the roof goes, you can expect extensive water damage within. Extensive water damage means unstable floors and the threat of collapse. Nothing puts a damper on a good adventure like having a ceiling fall on your head.
  • Being Observed. Finding a place mid-restoration is lucky. On the weekend it's probably deserted, and it's likely to have at least some point of entry available. If any refurbishing is underway, you'll be able to see at a glance the places that (a). Are being fixed and (b). Need fixing, and should not be trod upon. However, there is also a greater chance that whoever is doing the restoration has set up cameras to watch the (expensive) equipment they've left lying around while the workers are gone
  • Don't Steal Anything. Seriously. Unless you have personal, first-hand, concrete knowledge that the property is unowned and unobserved (and I bet you won't), then for heaven's sake pretend it's a state park: take only pictures, leave only footprints. I mean it. Don't. Steal. Anything. You're exploring, not treasure hunting.


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