Ever since he was a young boy, now-34-year-old Ramy Awad has always been going into places he wasn’t supposed to.
“I remember just being in Chinatown in New York City with my parents and, literally, they’re picking out vegetables, and I just disappear because something looks interesting in the distance,” Awad told FOX News Digital. “I’ve always been that curious kid.”
Today, he’s a leading influencer in the urban exploration community, creating viral TikToks showing the strange and creepy things found inside decrepit homes, hospitals, prisons and abandoned towns.
Awad’s most popular videos feature places like disgraced adult movie star Ron Jeremy’s $8 million mansion, a French castle once belonging to Titanic passengers, the Manicomio di Voghera mental asylum, Bill Cosby’s former Pennsylvania home, and an alleged serial killer’s 1970s camper van.
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“[In] the urbex community, there’s a lot of word-of-mouth. You form alliances and friends, and you trade off spots,” the TikToker explained. “But my main way that I find my spots is actually utilizing Google Maps. I put the map on satellite mode, and I look for dilapidated buildings, overgrown trees, pools that look dilapidated, stuff like that.”
Exploring and documenting abandoned places has become his full-time job – a stark switch-up from his previous profession in aviation maintenance. He pairs his videos with eerie, horror movie-like music, appealing to viewers’ mysterious sides.
“I honestly think people like being scared,” he said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that people love creepy stuff. People love mystery and being scared and creepy music.”
Awad is a firm follower of urban exploration’s “unwritten rules,” which include never going somewhere alone, not vandalizing or stealing anything from the properties, and not disclosing the location of unique finds to large audiences or random followers.
“You never know what’s going to happen… it could be very dangerous where you need someone else to go find help,” Awad explained.
“It’s another unwritten rule of urbex not to give out a location because there are TikTokers who go into a location and vandalize it, and they call themselves explorers. They vandalize, they put it on fire, they graffiti it,” he added.
Commenters often tell the influencer that too much curiosity can kill, and he told Digital that he recognizes and plans for the potential risks involved.
“They are absolutely right. I’ve literally had half my body fall through an abandoned church. I was in a church in Philadelphia, and I took a step and the ground literally fell. And if I didn’t hold out my arms, I would have fell [sic] right through into the basement,” he detailed. “On top of that, inhaling black mold, asbestos… I do have experience and I try to stay as safe as possible.”
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Trespassing concerns also arise, and while Awad always alerts the property’s caregiver of his plans, there have been some close calls with legal troubles. Government and state-owned buildings, however, are always off-limits.
“I was exploring a hospital, actually, here in New York City, where I just couldn’t contact the person looking after the hospital… at the end of my exploration, I’m in the basement filming, and then I hear walkie-talkies, and it was the NYPD,” he said. “They ended up telling me that it’s very dangerous, that I need to leave, that I can’t come back here.”
Other TikTok comments express shock at the frozen-in-time mansions left vacant, destroyed on the inside though their foundation is intact. While some users jokingly say “I’m moving in,” or “I’ll buy it and renovate it,” Awad noted it’s more complicated than that.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that people love creepy stuff. People love mystery and being scared and creepy music.”
“These places are passed renovations, like these places actually need to be demolished and rebuilt,” he argued. “So I think that people don’t really see that from a video… black mold, structural damage.”
For the next generation of urban explorers, Awad emphasized research, supply preparation and respect for the locations.
“Do as much research as possible. Prepare yourself as much as possible. Don’t go in there with the intention of vandalizing or stealing… always bring someone with you,” he listed.
Places remaining on Awad’s abandoned places bucket list include a theme park in China that was meant to rival Disney World, Japanese ghost towns, and the Chernobyl nuclear reactor site.
“It’s been very surreal going viral on TikTok,” Awad reflected. “It makes me want to go out and explore more places and go harder than ever.”
“This [has] made me happier just traveling and doing social media. And this is what I always wanted to do.”
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