Badass or Just Plain Stupid? Explaining the Intense Urbex Travel Trend

It's all a matter of perspective.

Let's say you just heard your travel buddy brag about all her latest "urbex" adventures. And you were all casually like, "Oh cool," and then whipped out your phone for a little Google sesh. Well, perhaps you'll find this. Because even if you're a savvy traveler, you might not know yet about the trend sweeping the fearless road warriors — even though it has been percolating underground for a while — so allow us to illuminate.

Urbex is short for "urban exploration," also known as roof and tunnel hacking. It's basically exploring man-made structures, like abandoned ruins, for thrills... and photos.

A photo posted by Sean (@angry.johnny) on

Often, urbex sites are old factories, missile silos, schools, asylums, hospitals, and even amusement parks. The trend is particularly common in Japan, where it's called haikyo, because of sites available following damage from WWII.

Urbex is more about exploring architecture and finding amazing photos no one else has taken.

From catacombs in Rome, to abandoned metros in New York, there are sites everywhere. Even the old Six Flags in New Orleans, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, is a popular urbex spot.

Critics slam this niche of travel calling it "strange." The Guardian suggests, "The short-term risks are grim: drowning in sewage, falling from girders, gralloched by razor-wire, skewered on scaffolding. Longer-term dangers include respiratory problems from exposure to dust and gas."

Nevertheless, people are into it precisely because it's a little risky — since you could get hurt or get arrested, as urban explorer Bradley Garrett found out while trying to do research at one site in an abandoned London tube station.

Naturally, it makes for great photos; find them trending on Instagram under the #urbex hashtag.

For some, it's about transcending typical travel experiences to become a real, independent, intrepid explorer: One urbex fan found remnants of the USSR space program in an old hangar in Kazakhstan.

And now you know.

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