In sci-fi films and shows, time travel is a frequent and recurring factor in some of our favourite stories.
But with so many methods of zipping through minutes available, from inborn or acquired natural abilities to all shapes and sizes of vehicles and machines, what’s the best way to travel?
Here we have over two dozen ways to jeopardise the space-time continuum, and we’ve rated each based on convenience, comfort, accuracy, time direction and practicality, noting their best and worst features. Then we assigned a rating from lowest to most highly recommended in accordance with this ranking system:
Low to high (left to right): brass, bronze, silver, gold, platinum
ABILITIES AND POWERS
The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
Chrono-impairment – A genetic anomaly is the means of travel here. Drawbacks include travelling solo, strictly to the past occurring during your own lifetime, and arriving naked, necessitating theft of clothes and money on arrival.
You can meet and talk with people as an adult whom you only knew as a child. And can visit your past self and pass along knowledge and comforting information, although another downside is re-seeing yourself through every dodgy haircut you’ve ever had.
There is virtually no control over travel – when you exit current time and where you’re taken to – which can be dangerous and you may often destroy personal property you’ve been holding when you fade. Be prepared to replace glassware, dishes and other breakables on a regular basis.
However, control can be learned and, as the condition is rare but hereditary, future chrono-impaired progeny may fare better than their ancestors.
Somewhere In Time (1980)
Self-hypnosis – Never underestimate the power of the human mind. If our species wants something badly enough we can make it happen through sheer willpower.
Contrary to its name, The Somewhere In Time travel method requires extreme concentration and a very sharp focus on a particular goal at the point in the past you’d like to reach.
Simply secure a room where you’re guaranteed not to be disturbed or interrupted, get comfortable and… think, think, think.
Travellers are warned to dress appropriately for their destination and to check their pockets before heading off, as any reminder of their present day life will tear them violently from their visit to the past when the penny drops, sometimes literally.
Heroes (2006 – present)
(Hiro Superhero Ability) – This is about as fuss-free as time travel gets. A blink of the eyes and you can jump both time and place, forward and backward. A mere touch takes a friend or two along and there’s no hanging about. Travel is instantaneous.
It’s a shame, then, that the time travel nemesis, the bloody nose, has to eventually crop up, as does the small matter of the ability killing you in the end, making this a choice to be considered only by those with a close superhero friend with reviving powers at the ready at all times.
If you can manage that and can get past the silly look, this is a fine way to travel.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
Memory Power (aided by journals, photos, and film reels) – This backward-only, individual method of travel through your lifespan has consequences to your health, with the bloody nose making another appearance and damage to the brain as multiple timeline versions of alternate lives’ memories start stacking up.
With practice, however, you can relive incidents, changing lives for the better. It may take more than one trip, though. Fixing the past is tricky business.
We hope there isn’t a big run on this method as, in the wrong hands, the opposite would be possible and we could conceivably no longer exist to warn you of that fact.
OBJECTS, PORTALS AND LAND MASSES
Timeslides (Season 3, Episode 5, 1989)
Photographic Images – A batch of developing liquid, mutated over the centuries, allows travellers to enter photos and slides of family snaps and historic images and become a part of the events, which have come to life.
There are limitations. Boundaries are set by the dimensions of the image, but you can freely jump in or out and even bring items from the image back, without injury or consequence, making this method one of the safest and conundrum-free of those on offer here.
Twilight Zone (Original Series)
Once Upon A Time (Season 3 Episode 78, 1961)
Time Helmet – This headgear, although not very fashionable with its sparkler inserts, is portable, easily stored and multi-time-directional.
Holding on to a friend can transport them too, although only within the hundred years between 1890 and 1990, and only for 30 minutes per trip.
The model suited Buster Keaton well, and there were no adverse effects from his excursion to 1960 and back to 1890, so we’re confident it’s safe and reliable.
Should a problem arise, apparently a fix-it shop repairman can easily set it right within minutes, but we think you may get gawked at on the high street, so the very self-conscious or vain should look elsewhere.
Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Unknown – It’s unclear whether the bar the traveller exits is the impetus for the untimely jaunts that bigoted Bill Connor is sent on, but we’d have to agree that a pub or bar is a fine setting off place.
However, stops in Nazi Germany, Vietnam and a Ku Klux Clan meeting, where he’s the victim and prey of each time period, rather than the instigator, are undesirable destinations, indeed.
This method is recommended only for law enforcement officials as, provided criminals survive the journey, they’ll surely have learned their lesson like no other form of punishment we can think of.
Futurama (1999 – present)
Bender’s Big Score (2007)
Galactic Entity Time Sphere – We must admit that the time sphere is a fairly unknown quantity. The claim is that it’s self-paradox-correcting, and it achieves this by ridding the universe of any duplicate travellers created in each one-way trip back in time.
We can’t vouch for the accuracy of this claim as the only example of repeated use produced a tear in the universe at the end. Hardly a good sign.
And we feel compelled to warn potential travellers that use of the sphere will probably be full of mostly muddled ideas crammed into what feels like too long a time and will not live up to the quality of the years that preceded it.
Star Trek (Original Series)
City On The Edge Of Forever (Season 1 Episode 28, 1967)
Guardian Of Forever Time Portal – The attraction of portal travel is clear: it can accommodate groups of travellers at a time, there’s no advance preparation necessary, and travellers can leisurely step through to a new era with no ill effects to be faced.
This first of two Star Trek entries features a time portal with a real challenge. Run by a machine-being hybrid that likes its riddles, times speed by chronologically (much like a stream of stock footage film reels) and you need to make a well-timed jump to land anywhere near the date in time you’re aiming for.
It seems The Guardian will pass you back through to your own time when you’re ready or accomplish the goal you went travelling for, but we can not guarantee that anymore than an accurate landing in the past. As such, time travel by this means is heavily discounted.
Time Bandits (1981)
Time Holes (and the map to locate them) – If you don’t mind the company of six loud, bawdy and thieving travel companions, you can pop to historic locations and times with the help of a map of locations to holes in the fabric of the universe.
Limitations include very tight opening and closing schedules and you’re likely to attract the attention of The Evil Genius and his minions, who won’t be wishing you bon voyage.
But deserving travellers will probably enjoy the protection of the Supreme Being, righting all wrongs in the end and helping make this a gold standard form of time exploration.
And the souvenirs are fabulous.
Lost (2004 – 2010)
The Island – Why settle for a cramped box or even a simple car for your chosen method of time travel? If you act quickly you can have your very own island, and can travel through time in paradise!
The island special can hold as many friends and family as you like, and getting to it is as easy as falling out of the sky (we’ll take care of the landing arrangements).
Once on the island, you’ll feel like you just can’t leave as you take in the sights, including the famous beached pirate ship, assortment of hi-tech science labs and even a pet smoke monster. Isn’t he cute?
Please note: time alterations are beyond your control, with random hops and the occasional (almost obligatory by now) nosebleeds. We’d advise travelling with a medical professional.
Time travel isn’t easy and, sadly, a violent electromagnetic explosion is required. If one isn’t present, you could also use an unexploded nuclear bomb. (We realise options are always appreciated.)
Visitors are advised not to play with the frozen wheel underground, and please, please, keep pressing the button.
VEHICLES, MACHINES, CONTRAPTIONS AND SHIPS
Back To The Future Trilogy (1985 – 1990)
Delorean – This vehicle certainly made a better time travel machine than it did a car and with the ability to travel both forward and backward with high accuracy, it’s sure to be a popular choice.
You could bring a companion (and a small pet) in one of the earliest models, but further improvements such as the use of garbage for fuel made this pick much more practical for those on budgets that won’t stretch to plutonium.
The latest train model can whisk away whole parties of friends, families and – dare we suggest – paying guests, making this a top notch way to travel and an attractive business opportunity.
Car/Tunnel – This one-way form of time travel is a little on the cramped side and, with truth in advertising, not all two-passenger rides end in their desired destination, as evidenced by the two large red stains at the end of the tunnel runway.
Like the BTTF Delorean, the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) vehicle needs to get up to speed before occupants are transported back through time. Unlike the Delorean, the Timecop ‘car’ is on rails and the ride is much more shaky and violent in comparison.
But, accuracy is extremely high and a handheld device whisks you out of the past quickly enough, making this a feasible choice for gutsy individuals when precise time and place are paramount.
Meet The Robinsons (2007)
Time Travel Flying Car – Don’t let the cartoon look of this model fool you. This is a perfectly capable machine, with extra shine, a nice retro look, and a comfortable and exciting ride that can easily take you and a friend forward in time to see how your relatives are faring.
It is a rather delicate machine, and, as with any vehicle, accidents can occur, so it’s highly recommended for use by genius inventor-types only, who can make on-the-spot repairs.
The second working model has been taken out of commission to ease concerns that any jealous people from your past or future will use it to follow you and sabotage your plans for future happiness.
H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1960)
The Time Machine – Now, here is an example of gorgeous engineering. Not only stylish, with Victorian flourishes and highly detailed trimmings, this conveyance offers two-way, open air travel at speeds controlled by the passenger.
Companion trips are possible (with an ample lap, naturally), accuracy is extremely high and, as added entertainment value, you can witness your surroundings evolving and devolving as you stay stationary, whizzing through hours or centuries.
The machine may not be as portable as we’d like, and its appearance is hardly inconspicuous, but it can be dragged short distances and the bonus of an exacting, working miniature replica puts this entry in best-seller status.
Quantum Leap (1989 – 1993)
Science Experiment Gone “Kaka” – If you’re looking for a time travel method that’s exact and fully manageable, then you may want to keep browsing. This time-hopping contraption can shift you almost anywhere, as long as the events are within your own lifetime.
Rather than troubling you with arriving in a strange place where no one knows you, this handy and timely transporter zaps you right into the body of another person, giving you full control of them, letting you interact with everyone without the trifling question of who you are.
Just remember to check the nearest mirror or reflective surface to see if you’re a man or woman, as confusion tends to hinder your seamless integration into past society.
Unfortunately, users of this method, once departed, cannot determine where they go or who they’ll be, and they’re also compelled to put right things that once went wrong. Fail, and you’ll be stuck in your current host forever. Succeed, and… well, you’ll be sent somewhere else.
Yes, this is long-term travel you’re committing to.
Though travelling alone, you will get aid. Handy holographic agents, only you can see, are available to help you out. Just be careful to talk to them when no one else is around. You don’t want to appear loony.
To answer commonly asked questions: No, we’re not sure exactly what happens to the people you inhabit while you’re ‘in’ them, and no, the time jumping process is not run by God.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
A Hot Tub – Well, you can’t knock this one for its luxury element. How better to travel throughout time than with warm jets of water relaxing your body as you do so?
Given how cramped some time travel rivals can be, this is positively business class.
Given that the test pilots of said hot tub were under the influence of one or two drinks when they first took it for a spin, long-term reliability and exact operational instructions remain under wraps.
But, in spite of one or two practical considerations, this is no bad way to get around.
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Time Travel Chair – This, frankly, uncomfortable-looking one-way, one-person contraption is used only on prisoners, so it’s a hard sell to the general population.
However, its use in a virus-ravaged future, as envisioned in this example, may have been justified, so perhaps a few models could be stockpiled by governments for a ‘just in case’ scenario.
Refinements should be made before use, though, as it’s hardly been pinpoint accurate in demonstrations thus far. Used as is, we recommend packing a small bag for an asylum stay or travelling with a doctor’s note.
Terminator (1984 – 2009)
Big ‘Ol Skynet Time Machine – Not one for the portable equipment devotee, this building-sized method of time travel is good for zipping to any time or place, making it a very flexible temporal transportation device. Sadly, it does have a few drawbacks.
First, you can’t take anything with you, not even clothes, so you’d better be happy to bare all, or appropriate clothes, boots and vehicular transport from other sources on arrival. (Just ask nicely, we’re sure you’ll find many willing helpers.)
Second is the unfortunate side-effect of the time entry hole, which will disintegrate anything and everything it touches, including buildings, fences and vehicles. It does make a lovely, perfect sphere-shaped hole, though.
Finally, and possibly most important, you do need to have an evil global computer network with a penchant for exterminating mankind build one for you. Or, you could sneak in and use it when it’s not looking. But keep your identity safe, or Skynet may well send various configurations of robot back in time to kill your relatives.
These downsides can’t help but knock a few points off, making this a choice for the Uzi 9mm toting time travellers out there only.
Time Travel Boxes – Although the Primer boxes are small enough to be considered portable, they’re not as practical as you might guess on first look.
Certainly their coffin-like dimensions and appearance will put off the claustrophobics, and the argon-filled interior requires breathing apparatus to be worn at all times. That’s an added inconvenience, as well as additional expense.
Add in bleeding from the ears, the loss of fine motor skills, the need to stay in for prolonged periods to achieve travel to past days, and we can’t recommend this method to any but the most desperate users with limited storage space and a willingness to repeat the process numerous times to understand what’s happening.
Déjà Vu (2006)
Space Folding Tech – Another option that’s not for claustrophobics, the cramped quarters of this conveyance is the least of its minus points.
Travellers are subjected to EMP forces on setting off, meaning you’ll need to be revived at the other end. That’s a biggie.
Less life threatening, but still inconvenient, is the fact that, although you arrive clothed, you can’t take anything much weightier than cloth with you. Even a medical alert bracelet is unsafe.
Selection of this method will be strongly dependent on your faith in your local healthcare authority, and with a travelling ‘distance’ of only four-and-a-half days backward achievable, we feel the risk outweighs the benefit, even for the most fit and hardy hearts with the most comprehensive insurance plans.
Time Machine Vat – Here’s an imported entry that’s not for those bothered by close quarters as you need to not only be submerged in liquid, but a lid will close down over your head, sealing you in and under.
Travel takes place quickly, but with the traveller in a very uncomfortable, contorted and breathless position.
As if that wasn’t enough to put you off, you’re at the mercy of the fool at the controls, who lies continually and manages to make a mess of things, more than once.
We don’t know how far you can travel backward, but it seems to be only about an hour, although that may be adjustable. We’re unsure as the manual is in Spanish.
Doctor Who (1963 – present)
TARDIS – We love the TARDIS. There’s no denying its longevity, its style, its ample interior and the fact that it can travel not only through time in all directions, but can visit universes with inhabitants we never knew existed.
With due praise delivered, we wonder, though, why a nice, comfy, cushy couch hasn’t been installed, and, up until a certain Professor River Song imparted her knowledge of the stabilisation control recently, it was a quite bumpy ride in the past.
We’re also sure fellow fans won’t deny that the Doctor and his numerous companions haven’t always parked the TARDIS down precisely when and where they had planned.
Still, that’s all part of the adventure, and as long as the Doctor is in charge of the trip, we’ll recommend TARDIS travel without reservations.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Phone Booth – While it’s hardly a spacious ride, with nowhere to sit, the time travelling phone booth is a fine choice for two or a few travellers.
It features two-way trips and there doesn’t seem to be any ill or side-effects as a result of popping back in time or speeding ahead to the future.
With the demise of the full-length phone booth in an age of mobile phones and kiosks, it’s also something of a collector’s item these days, adding high re-sale value should you tire of travelling or learning.
Star Trek (various)
Slingshot Effect – If writer-producer Ronald D. Moore can’t explain this method, saying, “I would assume that the precise calculations involved in using the slingshot method are something of a closely-guarded secret,” then we have no hope of doing so.
In very brief terms, a ship uses a star’s gravity to whip it into a time warp.
Beyond that, what we can say is that travel is available via either the Federation starship, Enterprise, or a hijacked Klingon Bird of Prey and, provided all goes well, there’s danger only to the escorting ship’s energy resources, with a bit of passenger jostling on braking.
This method, of course, requires living in the Star Trek universe, but we could imagine worse prerequisites.
Just go for non-redshirt employment, if you have the choice.
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