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Timetravel: What to Take?

By Shamus
on Thursday May 14, 2009
Filed under:


You’re about to go back in time. You’re going to land somewhere in Europe during the High Middle Ages, in the range of 1000AD to 1300AD. You’re standing in your house. This trip will take you and about a loaded suitcase worth of volume. If you attempt to take more you won’t be able to predict what will be left behind. What do you take with you?

You’re going for good. This is a one-way trip. You don’t know exactly where or when you will land within the given window, or what time of year it will be. (Let’s assume you can be confident that you’ll land on solid ground, though. Don’t worry about appearing over the ocean. inside of rock, or 100 meters off the ground. You’ll arrive safely. After that it’s up to you.)

Don’t worry about changing history. It’s inevitable, so don’t go in trying to preserve the original timeline.

So… what items will you put in your suitcase before you go? What’s the plan when you get there?

Answers might perhaps be long. Leave them in the comments, or put them on your blog and I’ll link back.

Somewhere North of South.

Comments (187)

1 2 3

  1. gebiv says:

    Well, I’d make sure I was wearing this shirt…


  2. RCTrucker7 says:

    Hey Shamus, this is totally unrelated to the article I know, and I apologize, but thought it would be ok once you saw what it was; Your Pixel City made it onto Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

    We Built This City On (er) Maths: PixelCityWritten by Kieron Gillen on May 14, 2009 at 5:31 pm.


  3. Al Shiney says:

    Well, it’s pretty much all about survival, which means being able to defend yourself and heal wounds. For the latter, I’d consult a medic to figure out what I’d need for a state of the art first aid kit and antibiotics / medicines that will stand the test of time. For the former, a good pistol (with suppressor if I could manage it, as I don’t want to have to answer questions) and a compact shotgun for dire emergencies (“This is my BOOM stick!”), along with large quantities of ammo, would be required.

    I’d try to fill up any remaining space with schematics of whatever technological advances were due to be developed in the next 100-200 years (say 1200 to 1400) so I could “invent” them first. Hey, a guy’s gotta make a living. :-)

    Pictures of loved ones would have to be in there somewhere too. I think it’s realistic to fit all of that in one suitcase.

  4. Blackbird71 says:

    Ok, I have to ask, what is the purpose of this trip through time? You’ve already precluded making any historical changes, so what is the goal of the journey? I ask because what I bring will depend greatly on what my mission is.

    Or is this little jaunt just for the fun of it? Because if I had a time machine and two weeks of vacation to blow, I think I could come up with a destination or two much better than the Middle Ages…

  5. OldGrover says:

    Huh. Suitcase full – condensed abridged encyclopedia, chemistry text, physics text, biology text, botany text. Bible and cross (got to prove I’m not a heathen, after all, even though I am). Pistol with ammo (as much as I can stuff into corners), and holster. Leatherman. Kitchen butcher knife. Flint. Matches – more stuff for corners. Flashlight with extra batteries. Laser pointer with extra batteries (useful for creating juju). A small sheet of 6mil transparent poly plastic, big enough to cover under. Gold and jewels, as much as I can swap for the deed to the house. Three extra pairs of my glasses, in as heavy and dull a frame as possible. Pills – Tylenol, codeine, morphine, penicillin.

    That’s probably a reasonable amount to stuff in a decent sized suitcase. Plan would be to protect myself with the pistol until I reached a reasonably sized town, use the gold and jewels to establish myself as a merchant (with guards) in that town and work my way up using the knowledge in the books to advance my state of living.

    And hoping not to end up like ‘The Boss’, fighting to defend a fortified bastion of technology against hordes of knights.

  6. Hal says:

    I’m with Al Shiney on this one. Probably fill it mostly with first aid or other medical things. In fact, didn’t you write a post at one time on the very subject of whether you’d survive the middle ages (or not) comparing medical technology then with a person’s medical history?

    The rest of my bag space might just be for books: History, science, etc. As long as I’m changing history, I may as well do it right.

  7. Badger says:

    Blackberry (it has all my contacts in it!).
    Digital SLR camera.
    Macbook Pro.
    My iPod.
    A digital camcorder. Lots of cool action to be filmed! (“What else floats on water?”)
    A laser pointer.
    My VISA card (“It’s where you want to be”).
    My Kindle, with a copy of “Robinson Crusoe” on it.
    A few pairs of spare underwear. Remember, textile technology was pretty undeveloped back then. You don’t want your bits getting itchy.
    Oh, and I’d take my Tilley hat of course. Because those things rock at ANY point in history.

  8. Jericho says:

    I would bring a suitcase time machine to send me into the future.

    But seriously, I expect I would try and go all hermit, since I don’t speak whatever regional dialect they got. So survival gear, hunting implements, axes, etc. Probably skinning knives, so I can make a living if I need to.

    Nothing involving electricuty or batteries, unless they are life-time batteries (imagine running out of batteries after 5 years of it being your only piece of technology).

    I might even bring a firearm of some sort, but it would have to be hidden well. Don’t want the locals finding it.

  9. Badger says:

    Old Grover: The Bible will be a dead giveaway you ARE a heathen- unless it’s in Latin and handwritten. Also, only clergymen would have them, and they’d be chained to the lectern in the church. So save the space for something better, like Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty books.

  10. Julian says:

    I’d take a compound bow, and then show it to a Count or Duchess or similar to impress them, win their favour, get them to let me live with them, etc.

    Reasoning is that a soldier or hunter would recognize it as a bow, but when he shot it he would realize that I hold a much, MUCH superior weapon than their silly longbows. That’s certain to win me some friends.

    Also, anything “modern” that didn’t require electricity (maybe something solar, or windup).
    “BEHOLD, THE MIGHTY BOUNCY BALL”. Seriously, those things would sell like crazy there.

    I would also take sugar to make dulce de leche, and make a killing that way too.

    • Shamus says:

      I’m afraid I’d default on this one. My asthma (which is VERY sensitive to animals, HORSES in particular) means that any trip back is more or less a death sentence. I couldn’t hope to acquire or pack enough drugs to keep me going for morth than a couple of years, assuming the drugs don’t simply lose their virtue due to normal expiration. No, I’d be doomed.

      But if I spot myself a magic cure for the purposes of taking part in this discussion:

      * My hand-pump flashlight.
      * Two sidearms, both of which feed off the same ammunition. This gives me a backup, and the ability to arm an ally in a pinch.
      * The time travel cheat sheet that everyone keeps linking.
      * Antibiotics, painkillers, disinfectant.
      * SPARE SHOES. I’d get running shoes in brown so they don’t stand out TOO much.
      * As much ammo as I could reasonably carry without staggering.
      * I’d use a backpack or gym bag instead of a suitcase. I’ll most likely be lugging it for a while.
      * I’d google a list of major & minor inventors and thinkers of the target period, and head for those guys (I doubt there’s many, though) once I figure out when & where I’ve landed.
      * My pocketwatch. It’s sweet, was a gift from my brother, it’s practical, and it might come in handy as a bit of comprehensible tech.
      * A really good coat. Some people are overlooking the fact that you might land in winter.

      Not knowing where I’d end up, I’d probably gravitate towards a city and look for opportunity. The language barrier is going to be a pain in the ass.

  11. OldGrover says:

    Shamus and Badger: I did think of that, but I felt it’d be worth it in order to a> use quotes to demonstrate what I was doing wasn’t bad and b> fend off accusations that I didn’t pay attention to the Lord.

    Either way, you’re right – the books, if seen, are a dead giveaway, but I don’t know Latin so I couldn’t bring Latin versions of all of them.

  12. Andrew says:

    As much of wikipedia printouts as I could fit into a suitcase.

  13. Nefrai says:

    Leatherman for sure.

    A print out on making primitive batteries.

    A good sub-zero jacket (our jackets have to better than the ones in the old days)

    Lighter and some extra fuel.

    My Nintendo DS (I will eventually learn how to hook it up to my primitive battery).

    Not really much else…most things I need for survival I can still get there. Knives, bow/arrow, etc. I may bring a book on what plants help with wounds/infection.

    Oh, and my Enders Game book. I would miss it if I left it here.

  14. haelduksf says:

    It all depends on your strategy.

    Assuming no intensive training, my command of the local language and customs would be shaky at best, so that rules out blending in.

    If I were to try and make my way within civilization, I’d bring an XO laptop (built-in Wikipedia, plus useful apps and hand-charger), a respectable handgun with a couple hundred hollow-point rounds, some sort of High Middle Ages Phrasebook, some religious paraphernalia appropriate to the destination time/place, and as much gold as I could fit in the remaining space.

    If I were roughing it (which I think is much more viable- with people being what they are the previous option is likely to end up with me dead over some stupid matter of greed or religion or what-have-you) I’d go with the XO again, a sturdy crossbow, a healthy supply of antibiotics, and as much steel as I could pack in the remaining space. I hope my suitcase has sturdy wheels!

  15. Jazmeister says:

    I’d bring some method of generating power (even a wind-up phone charger, if it came to that) and a very efficient laptop with external hard drives etc, which I’d have previously loaded with the entire contents of Wikipedia and tutorials for building more computers, teaching people english, surviving in the desert, etc. I could also bring some gold bullion.

    I’d probably have a dry-run before I left this timeline, seeing if I could construct shelter and *gulp* stop being a vegetarian without getting salmonella. I’d get a million vaccines first and probably take a shit ton of multivitamins with me, but more valuable will be the ability to manufacture my own shit with the knowledge stored on my laptop.

    So the plan is to get the fuck out of Europe, crazy bastards that they are, and charter a ship to america. Then I’d approach some native americans and communicate with them, and try to forge a society that would be ready for the colonisation, both technologically and philosphically.

    Key to this goal would be setting the society on a path to finish my work after I’m dead, and to guard against corruption and understand why it’s all a good idea. Bring footage from films like the Last Samurai that show massacre of native americans, to convey the seriousness. Some knowledge of their culture would be good, but the goal is to destroy their culture and replace it with my own. Will hold off on giant statues of me until later. Don’t mind learning their language.

    Also spare batteries and, if possible, spare copies of anything I couldn’t repair. And a picture of my wife, who’d have to have died for me to even consider doing this. Maybe I’d take a teacher training course too – the only way to really make the difference you want to make is to use today’s supreme tools – the internet, knowledge, communication, and education – to arm you in the past.

    Then I’d kill Hitler and start mining Tiberium.

    Great Question!

  16. Jazmeister says:

    Addendum: Kill the crew. No-one must know. Better they never return from their foolish voyage. It’s for the greater good, etc.

    Addenda Addendum: Also, maybe not the *entire* contents of wikipedia, although Earth’s alternate history is important to preserve.

    Also it should be passworded, ffs. And no, I won’t flash the future-shit to people. And no guns. Some language courses would be great. Latin and the Germanic ones might cover a lot of ground.

  17. Jadawin says:

    Apparently no one has read Frankowski’s The Cross-Time Engineer- I’d carry a ton of seeds with me, since modern crops produce much more vigorously. You’d have to be careful not to get sterile hybrids, though.

  18. Jason says:

    Sure you won’t have albuterol or singular (or whatever it is you take) but you could make do with a ephedra and marijuana. Marijuana is an expectorant and ephedra is a decongestant.

  19. Sesoron says:

    A Chaucerian dictionary, a Latin dictionary for good measure, a selection of books with the details necessary to construct a working electrical generator (wind, solar, hydro?), my computer, a portable drive with the entire contents of Wikipedia downloaded to it, and a sword. That last one might not actually fit in a suitcase, but you said volume, Shamus, not dimensions.

  20. I would take:
    -Multiple netbooks
    -Handcrank generator for the above
    -Either currency or something compact and easily sellable (like a bunch of cubic zirconia or synthetic diamonds)
    -Lasers, at least a few of which are over 500mW
    -Modern medical supplies: coagulating bandages, epinephrine, or whatever, IANAM
    -A pistol and bullets for it (in that time period, a gun would provide an easy out for any problems that arise)
    -A couple butane jet lighters and a couple cans of butane (starting fires is good, and with the can of butane I can breathe fire as well ;)

  21. Trianglehead says:

    Layered clothes, and numerous books on the sciences. Probably an outer robe and attempt to pass myself off as a scholar monk.

  22. Ed says:

    Hmmm… I’ll divide my suitcase into roughly equal thirds. The first third would be devoted to medical supplies. The second would be devoted to food and water. Nothing too bulky, obviously, but a few days worth of dried beans and rice along with a couple gallon jugs of water should do. In a pinch, I can use the jugs to construct a water purifier. The third third would actually be subdivided into sixths. One would contain as many useful electrical gadgets and rechargeable batteries for them as I can fit, along with solar panels, wire glue and components to build chargers for them. The other would be packed up with as many pocket references on as many topics as I can fit. I’ll also want a Leatherman, a good combat knife and one of those retractable police batons.
    Edit: Forgot to pack a magnifying lens…

  23. Robyrt says:

    Actually, you could buy pocket Bibles in the Middle Ages; quite the fashion among courtly women, I’m told. Of course, everyone would assume you stole it. Since I couldn’t live alone as an outdoorsman, and my smooth hands and perfect teeth mean I’m not a peasant, I’d have to pose as a priest. That means a Latin Bible.

    As far as disruptive technology: Penicillin and pasteurization are very easy to explain for maximum benefit. If you make it to a university, you could scoop everyone on the invention of calculus.

  24. gorthol says:

    This is a question I have considered for quite a while (though to be fair, the question I considered had me sent back to before the invention of farming – but this is close enough).

    I’ve looked at the shirt above, and I gotta say – it’s useful, but that’s the kind of stuff you should memorize. What you would probably want to take is some sort of spectrometer (to identify substances), some sort of human-powered generator to go along with it, and a book that tells you how to identify elements from the readings. However, I get the feeling that that may be more than one suitcase worth of material.

    Barring that, I suppose you’d want to take things that you couldn’t easily find, create, or refine in that time period. Aluminum, tungsten, copper wiring, magnets (I’m glad this is a volume constraint and not a mass constraint). Maybe steel too, depending on where you end up (though I guess you don’t know that).

    Add some food, a toothbrush/toothpaste, a little freon, a few pages about batteries, and a few pages about crop rotation and you should be good to go. Present yourself as an inventor to a noble powerful enough to get you supplies and labor. Need a weapon? Invent the railgun (you can invent gunpowder if you want, but you’ll need saltpeter – if you want you can also throw that in your suitcase). Use the magnet and wiring to create a generator, then invent the lightbulb. Charlemagne has already introduced a system of crop rotation, but you can improve on it given those pages you brought along, leaving no land to fallow. Invent a heater. Invent the refrigerator. Prevent the invention of radio so that you can use wireless power transmission.

    Most importantly, replace their current system of dumping their chamber pots into the street with VIP latrines (ventilation-improved pit latrines).

    I’m sure I’ve gotten something wrong, but you get the idea. Your brain can carry almost limitless information, and has incredible computation power. Therefore, you really want to bring raw materials more than anything else.

  25. an e-book reader and a solar charger (with as many science documents as possible, some fiction for the boredom, may as well buy their entire library cause i’m not coming back to pay my credit card off (also, make sure that the e-books don’t have any drm which requires calling home)) maybe one of those electronic translator dealies too (with every possible language, cause, hey, i may end up in feudal japan!) a small, electric cattle prod (or similar multi-use taser device that could be charged with the solar charger)

    an assortment of easy to grow seeds,
    med kit with pain killers,antibiotics etc (and i’d make sure I went and got immunized for EVERYTHING before hand)

    Damascus steel survival knife, Leatherman ,
    a hand full of neodymium rare earth magnets
    a concealable pistol (i’d rather conceal it than use it) with as many rounds as I could fit in the remaining space (pistol + no ammo = dead weight)

  26. -F. says:

    Well, I could go a couple of different ways.

    1) I’d pack a BOOMstick, a chainsaw I could strap to my arm, some basic chemistry books and a spare copy of the necronomicon ex mortiis.

    2) I’d pack a Sonic Screwdriver, some Slightly Psychic paper, a towel and a slice of lemon wrapped around a gold brick.

  27. Zombie Pete says:


    While you’re at noble effort to save Native America, try not to spread smallpox and other Old World diseases, which is what killed off 3/4 of them. Technology and philosophy ain’t gonna save ’em.

  28. Tim says:

    Given the immense stretches of European wilderness, most equipment would need to be survival gear. Hopefully, the time machine doesn’t dump me in the Alps.

    Ideas I haven’t seen mentioned: maps, mini-binoculars, ultralight tent/sleeping bag if I can fit it; print the cheatsheets on waterproof silk or otherwise protect them; some tiny tradegoods, maybe LED magnets, or jewelry if budget is unlimited. Don’t get mistaken for a thief.

    I considered body armour, but it’s bulky, and if I end up in combat the pistol can’t help with, I’m screwed anyway.

  29. Strangeite says:

    32gb iPod Touch loaded with the entirety of Wikipedia, WikiHow and Brittanica, would fill Stanza with lots of technical eBooks on Chemistry, History, Physics, etc. and the rest would be apps that do not reguire a net connection, star chart, graphing calculator, Latin to English dictionary, etc. I like that it can fit into my pocket for quick escapes.

    Handcranked USB charger for the iPod touch.

    Rifle/Shotgun combo with ammo.


    A good knife set.

    A museum replica sword but manufactored using modern alloys.



    Water purification tablets.

    Seeds. Lots and lots of seeds. Of course they would be non-hybrids.

  30. Jazmeister says:

    @zombie pete

    Sure! I probably only need about that anyway, but being a mythical pariah of pestilence won’t help my PR. The goal is to stop america having a nuclear program and being a big stupid battleground. The sooner we develop a laser tower that can shoot down nukes, the better.

    I also like the magnets thing. If you just had a good sized magnet, you could set up shop powering your shit right away. Careful it doesn’t wipe your drives though.

    Kidnapping orphans might be a great way to build a community untouched by the weird local people and their stupid customs. I could also start work on Duke Nukem Forever.

  31. MikeElkins says:

    As a trade good: Silk. Lightweight and of obvious value to those rich enough to afford it, even through a language barrier.
    That’s once you’ve got the survival thing under control, of course…

  32. Jennifer says:

    How LONG of a trip are we talking about, here? For preference, I wouldn’t go. The past was scary bad. But if I *had* to go for some reason I can’t even begin to imagine, I’d pack the following:

    2 nondescript shirts
    1 pair of nigh-indestructible heavy canvas pants
    3 undershirts
    3 pairs underwear
    3 pairs heavy socks
    long johns
    a warm hat that covers my ears
    a scarf suitable for use for wrapping my entire head
    extremely comfortable hiking boots
    extremely comfortable hiking sandals
    waterproof slicker with hood
    knee-length jacket with removable lining to make it suitable for variable weather conditions.
    a month’s supply of feminine hygiene products, preferably the kind you can wash and re-use
    a 1-lb brick of the kind of soap that you can use on either clothes or yourself, preferably the kind that kills lice and fleas
    3 days emergency food
    3 days emergency water
    2 small cooking pots
    mess kit
    a selection of 6-10 knives of various utility, including a multi-tool that includes flint and tinder.
    a sharpening stone, cloth, and oil for said knives
    a winter blanket roughly the dimensions of a tent, waterproofed if possible
    a field manual illuminating the edibility/dangerousness of European plants and animals
    A compass
    A small but detailed atlas of Europe
    a large bottle of rubbing alcohol and a bottle of penicillan
    50′ of nylon rope
    a disreputable-looking leather bag for carrying anything I’m not wearing
    and as much extra cloth, sewing needles, buttons, and thread as I can cram into whatever space remains

    The plan: avoid human habitation as much as possible while carrying out The Mission, whatever it is. If not possible (food supplies running short), stick with outlying farmsteads of few inhabitants. Pass self off as mute/possibly harmlessly insane and communicate solely in gestures. Boil all water for at least 10 minutes before drinking. Conceal all knives on person and never be visibly armed.

    Forget about trying to “pass”–you will not pass and trying to do so is more dangerous than not bothering. Other humans are an extreme danger and should be treated as such, like wild animals to be run from, chased off, or possibly bribed with small valuables like needles, thread, or buttons. Stealth is your best chance of survival.

  33. Jack of Spades says:

    My sidearm. Don’t need anything else, as I have no real desire to survive in the nasty squalor that was the middle ages.

  34. edcalaban says:

    I’d plan on making myself VERY useful to a major noble family, possibly as some sort of engineer or advisor. This allows me to change whatever I planned on with maximum efficiency, as well as gain a position of power for later!

    1. Details on the expected political climate – who can I go be an advisor to? Which powers can I successfully manipulate?
    1a) MAPS.
    2. Small first aid kit
    3. Low bulk camping gear (tarp, rope, sleeping bag in a stuff sack, flashlight, solar charger for batteries, camp stove, knife, etc)
    4. Survival guide for the area
    5. A binder filled with useful technology and how to get there (steam power to electricity, guns, etc).
    6. Weapons, preferably small and concealable. One or two guns, but primarily melee weapons. Maybe a bow.

  35. Nefrai says:

    Looking over peoples lists, much of what you bring back won’t last long, unless it’s something you can build in those days. That’s why I wouldn’t bother with most medicine, extra clothes, or anything I can simply build once I get there/then.
    Magnifying glass is a brilliant idea…never wears out, just don’t break it, heheh.

    For clothes and something to sleep in, bring books on how to skin a deer and cure hides. For medicine, learn about the plants, and extracting penicillin from mold and such. Learn what berries are safe to eat.

    Any weapon you need you can make there. Guns run out of bullets but would be usefull for an emergency precaution. Books on trapping small animals for food, and many lots of string. String is your friend, and invaluable for fishing. It will wear out eventually, but will be really helpfull the first year or so.

    If I got zapped back in time, I would be in Washington…so lots of forest, rivers, animals, and Native Americans. My life would likely be short, heheh. Language barrier would prolly get me killed.

  36. Logicaly_Random says:

    My goals would be two-fold, initial survival, and the ability later to make myself useful. To further the first end, I would take:

    Glock 17 and 500 rounds of 9mm, plus some spare mags.

    Survival knife

    Water purification tablets

    My Latin textbook, plus a Latin/English dictionary.

    Antibiotics, preferably penicillin.

    This allows me to communicate to some extent, (at least with the local clergy), avoid death from any sort of pestilence that may be around, and defend myself. In addition, all of the above could be stuffed into a pocket, with the exception of the dictionary. For long-term usefulness, I would pack:

    Instructions on the Bessemer process

    Formula for black powder

    Instructions for making Penicillin

    Schematics and instructions for making a Kentucky long rifle

    These would allow me to produce the two things any army in the time period would need, antibiotics and gunpowder. All I’d have to do is get an audience with a local lord, show him what the Glock can do, and then tell him I can make something nearly as powerful. Then, when I reveal the usefulness of penicillin, I would become indispensable, and using that, effectively take over the medieval world.

  37. Oleyo says:

    I think I would do what several people have mentioned, bring lots of books about science and technology, I would slowly read the books and dispense the information to whoever wants to pay. Could definately come up with all kinds of “inventions” that way, a King would definately protect/provide for that kind of resource.

  38. Jennifer says:

    Everyone talking about bringing guns or expensive trade goods or electrical equipment is fooling themselves. You’re going to have enough trouble on your hands convincing people you aren’t The Devil and/or possessed by same, and you won’t have any buddies around to help you deal with packs of toughs. If you get mobbed, you’ll get off one shot, maybe (and that’s only if you’re skilled enough to get the gun out and ready very, very quickly), and then the guy’s buddies will take you down and cut your throat.

    As for the seeds, where are you going to find *land*? Every part of Europe in that period was owned by some feudal type–even killing a wild animal or cutting down a tree in a forest could land you in hot water because those animals and trees were considered property of the local lord.

  39. Mari says:

    Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

    *Rosary in precious gems (portable money as well as symbol of faith to prove non-heathenism)
    *Gold and silver jewelry (non-alloyed) with plenty of poking out bits (sun with rays, etc) for quick cash as well
    *Three pairs of eyeglasses in my prescription with poly-carb lenses (occulars for vision as bad as mine in glass lenses available then would be virtually unwearable)
    *a .45 revolver with both .45 and .22 loads
    *a deck of playing cards
    *toilet paper (seriously)

    That’s pretty much it, really. I’m not really uncomfortable with living in the Middle Ages so beyond my gun (for the protection of my person as women had virtually no rights under feudal law), a deck of cards for when I’m tired of music, art, and needlework, and some tp to pamper my hindquarters, all I really need is the ability to see well enough to avoid walking off a cliff and a source of cash until I find a man to marry and take the keeping of me under his charge. *shrugs* Yeah, but that was the reality, wasn’t it?

  40. K says:

    What’s with all you americans focusing on guns so much? A pistol (a spare makes sense) and some ammunition should easily suffice, as you will rarely need more than one bullet (assuming it hits) per fight, no matter the amount of enemies. They’ll run after seeing you kill someone by only pointing at him.
    I like the compound bow idea, and the seeds although you probably would not need a huge amount, provided you know how to plant crops. Potatoes! They even grow friends when they are lying in my fridge, can’t be hard to make more in proper conditions. Only trouble is that they are big and heavy to transport. Of couse pennicillin and medical things, including books on sicknesses and how to treat. A book on calculus, chemistry and physics to get a job at a university or court. Electrical devices discouraged, due to lack of repair/maintance. Computer parts break down after a few years. You might be able to get a monk to copy all your data to paper first, though. How about looking up famous literature (shakespeare) and “writing” it?

  41. Nick says:


    Daaaaang, thought I’d mention him first. All I can think of in this post and comments is that book. A good translation book, a book on european history, weapons, and a few books on physics and chemistry. Set up shop as that “reclusive engineer”, or become a valuable asset to some duke.

  42. cosmonusa says:

    1000AD to 1300AD?
    Hell yeah!
    All i need is my knowledge of Middle High German and a copy of “The Song of the Nibelungs”.
    I’m gonna sing the Minne! ;)

  43. Gregory Weir says:

    1. Army Field Manual.
    2. Quick study guides to physics, chemistry, and calculus.
    3. Leatherman.
    4. Cross necklace (not bible).
    5. Some energy bars, for the first few days.
    6. Many small cubic zirconias, distributed in hidden spots in the luggage and on my person.
    7. About a pound of aluminum, which will be more precious (and lighter!) than gold for those who can recognize its uniqueness.
    8. A history text covering the target time period, including a who’s who.
    9. Maps, preferably with political markings for the area. Bring extra copies of a simple world map for trading.
    10. Bottle of antibiotics, bottle of aspirin.
    11. A few changes of clothes.
    12. Compact medical reference book.
    13. Solar-powered calculator and a slide rule (with instructions).
    14. Bottle of peppercorns.
    15. A small collection of seeds from modern crops.

    The plan: pose as a person from the Far East who was converted to Christianity by a missionary priest. First, get to some sort of civilization, and do my best to communicate. Try to make my way to a center of learning or tech: Venice, Rome, Paris, Oxford. Get myself in good with the scientists there, claiming to have knowledge of Eastern science that I can share.

    What not to do: bring a bible, as others have said. I also won’t bring a weapon. I’m not good with one, and it will get me singled out as a troublemaker or rebellious serf. I won’t try to get rich, and won’t demonstrate any abilities that could be considered magical, with the exception of medical treatments that I will claim are based on old Eastern lore, and those only if someone’s life is at stake.

    Frankly, I’d far prefer Arabia as a destination.

  44. Mooseh says:

    -Three books, one on agriculture, one on human biology, and one on chemistry.
    -A portable microscope (in a crush-prof case).
    -That time travel cheat sheet (laminated).
    -Vaccine for smallpox and several antibiotics in pill form.
    -Some gold, silver, and aluminum? (remember, up until the later 1800’s, aluminum as hard to obtain in a pure form and thus expensive.)
    -A knife.
    -A change of clothes

  45. Joel says:

    If our goal is survival, I think we're going to want to cut as low of a profile as we can until we can ingratiate ourselves to a particular community or patron that is going to keep us fed, clothed, and sheltered. I like being able to go to sleep at night without the fear of being robbed and murdered in my bed and I think that certain decisions make this a more likely prospect than others.

    Some stuff can't really be compromised. If we show up in the woods in the middle of a European winter, we're going to need an excellent coat. Ideally it will be one that we can break down into component parts: waterproof shell, fleece lining, maybe a vest. A good hat and gloves are going to be important as well. Avoid bright colors. While an excellent pair of hiking boots sounds tempting, I think I would prefer boots that are going to offer more durability and ease of repair. That probably rules out anything waterproof, so we should probably pack a couple pairs of socks. Continuing on the wilderness theme, I can't stop thinking of Bear Grylls (for a couple reasons). He does pretty well with his knife which also contains a compass and flint. Bring a spare, but hey, now we can butcher animals we kill, cook them, and boil drinking water.

    While we are going to need some kind of ranged weapon, I think a firearm is probably too flashy. Especially a modern one. An old ball-firing musket would probably be a better bet, since making the ammunition and gunpowder wouldn't require any kind of industrialization. At that point, I think finding an excellent composite bow and a fletching kit would be the better move. No one is going to be surprised by a bow and a bow is far easier to maintain. You'll be able to replace a broken bow string. If a part fails in your firearm, well, I hope you brought plans for forging and machining high quality steel.

    Someone mentioned bringing a Latin dictionary. This is a very good idea. It is the closest you're going to get to a lingua franca in this situation (aside from Yiddish) and again will help you be less obtrusive. Sure, you might be dressed strangely and have a ridiculous accent, but if you know Latin you can't be too alien, right? Learning Latin will also be a good step towards learning Italian, which is great because that's where I'm headed. The climate is more favorable than Northern Europe and there are some cities that are in the process of becoming very wealthy. This means an even greater chance of surviving because someone is bound to pick you up and feed you because they think you could be useful. You'll probably do alright in Florence or Venice, especially if you're managed to memorize some plans for useful engineering. Architecture, sure, but knowing how to build a trebuchet is going to go a long way towards making you invaluable.

    I'm also going to avoid any kind of public heresy. The consequences are just a little too drastic and it would be entirely too easy to rock the boat too much, theologically speaking, with virtually any statement originating from our modern or post-modern experience of religion.

  46. Tacoma says:

    All you guys who talk about bringing a laptop with Wikipedia saved to it are missing some important stuff.

    First, many Wiki articles are worthless for recreating what they talk about. While many have some decent drawings you’d still need technical expertise to do things like manufacture penicillin or the cotton gin.

    Second, you need power. The small amount of power you can generate grinding away at your homemade generator is a pittance compared to your power needs. And you’d have to know exactly how to hook up unconditioned, fluctuating DC power into your laptop without destroying it or ruining the battery. You have no way to provide a constant power supply if the battery fails and the battery will last you a year or two at best with the poor recharging conditions.

    Third, travel is a pain. You’re riding a horse or in a carriage, or lugging it across the countryside. One good jolt too many and a tiny component comes loose, suddenly your store of all human knowledge is inaccessible.

    Fourth, Wikipedia is big.
    Feb 2003 – 4 gb
    Aug 2003 – 17 gb
    Apr 2004 – 57 gb (growing 1.2 gb per week)
    Oct 2004 – 170 gb
    Aug 2006 – 1.2 tb (1229 gb)

    Based on its growth curve, assuming the low-hanging fruit will have been taken care of already and growth will be steady due to news and new discoveries, I project that Wikipedia in Jan 2009 was probably around 1500 gb. Please tell me you have a laptop with 1500 gb of free memory.

    Also note that while everyone has been giving all these great ideas for things to bring, like a “compact shotgun” which even in the USA is illegal, he said you’re standing in your house packing. Do you really have all this stuff lying around your house?

    I’d givea little and suggest that you could run to the store for things. But gun purchases have waiting periods and such, though ammo doesn’t, so unless you have one you’re going to have to do without.

    I would bring a few science and math texts(which I actually do have lying around), medicine, and the time traveler printout. Sturdy clothes and shoes. Period and modern maps, compass, two multitool pliers. And I would train for outdoor survival, identification of local plants, major history of Europe at the time and in the near future. Remember you don’t care about history beyond a hundred years past your arrival date because you won’t live that long. And I would plan to invent a few really good things that will set me up in luxury. I’d make copies by hand to practice and make sure I was doing it right before I left. The most important one for me would be the machine used to manufacture condoms. But you only really need a couple good inventions.

    I’d definitely scope out the locations of mines that will be discovered after that time and that can be worked using the tech of that period.

    Given wire and the two multitools I know how to make chainmail. Knowledge of basic sanitation (hand washing, boiling water, sewage disposal) and general principles of modern medicine would make me valuable to a doctor.

    Also I wouldn’t care about changing history. If it’s a one-way trip I could care less about the future. I’m living now, after all, and I’m not worried about changing some hypothetical future of 2050 am I?

    Learning a language would be nice but that takes a long time, speakers of that dialect today are rare, and I have no idea if I’ll land in Spain or Russia. Best to wing it once I get there.

    I’d definitely get vaccination against the junk they had passing around back then.

    A weapon that doesn’t use ammo, like a modern alloy sword, plus a suit of stab-proof kevlar would be lovely – again if I could buy it before I left but that’s hardly likely. Instead I’d bring a kitchen knife and a crowbar until I could procure a crossbow and sword there.

    Finally a bit of money to get started, pure gold and silver in Troy ounce nuggets.

  47. Galen says:

    I think bringing all the medical supplies would be the hard way. Assuming I can find one I’d opt for a midget or contortionist that’s a highly certified doctor. If there was still room in the bag then I’d pack some jewelry to sell when I get there. And a pistol and ammo.

  48. Unary says:

    Most people are bringing reference materials. I think I’d rather learn it, and focus on bringing appropriate tools and clothing…in a backpack, not a suitcase.

    How long do I have to prepare?

    I’ve got a decent grip on how to make clothing (cloth and leather), and I can clean a carcass, so I’d just go with the knowledge I’ve got there. Trapping with snares is also something I know. First aid is second nature to me, I’d have to learn how to craft my own antibiotics after the first few years, tho. I can fish with a hook and a wire.

    I think I could learn to smelt and forge simple tools in a year or two. I’m decent at carpentry already, but a six-month stint as a journeyman wouldn’t hurt. Once I’ve got those two down, it’s a reasonable leap to be able to gunsmith (wooden stock, single shot rifle). I’m not sure how I’d find ore for smithing, so I’d have to add that to the list of things to learn.

    Regarding farming, I’d have to spend a little time learning some modern cultivation techniques, but that would probably only take a half year.

    So, that’s survival, now about comfort. I’ve got a working knowledge of simple electrics, I’m not going to invent the circuit board, but batteries and motors are simple enough. Being able to smith my own parts (pull my own wires, etc) would be beneficial here…I think I’m going to exclude glassblowing from my skill list, that seems kinda … extra.

    Then I’d head somewhere in the SE USA, where I could try sustenance living for a year in a reasonably temperate environment before pushing the button.

    Leisure time would have to be non-existent. Every waking second would have to be spent either improving conditions, or limiting failures. I’d either have to be able to provide everything for myself, or learn to trade.

    Communications with Europeans would be limited at best, and violent at worst. I’ve only got one lifetime. I’m not going to advance 700 years in 15 or 20. However, earlier introduction of these objects would probably accelerate the Renaissance of Europe, or at least attract the attention of the local rulers.

    Closing though…I suppose, at nearly 40, I’d be considered too old to be drafted for the Crusades, so that’d be good. :-D

    Edit: I just remembered, there was a movie…”A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” or something like that. It was ok, based on a Mark Twain book.

  49. Jason D Barr says:

    I keep running into people asking this question on teh intarwebz, and I keep throwing out this (tangentially related) link to Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution: here. Not so much what you should take, but survival tips. You can kill a couple of hours at your desk reading this… so I’ve heard.

  50. Dennis Brennan says:

    You want to stay out of America– if the sea voyage doesn’t kill you, the human-sacrifice-practicing natives will.

    It’d be better to go to Cairo or Baghdad. Much less chance of being burned as a heretic in one of those places. Of course, you don’t want to be in Baghdad in or after the year 1258…

    Microfiche of reference texts, and lenses. Don’t bother with anything requiring a power source.

    A good mirror.

    A sturdy plastic tarp.

    A map of gold mines and silver mines. I won’t be able to exploit them, but perhaps I can suck up to the local nobility by revealing their location.

    The recipe for concrete.

    Potatoes– that was a good idea.

    Flea repellent. Black death is going to arrive in the mid-1300s.

  51. Tom says:

    OK, I like all these answers, but I thought I’d take a different approach for the fun of it…

    If my goal is to survive the rest of my life in the time period, I’m going to try to learn the language and go native as much as possible. My goal is to make a living, not “live off the land.” So my question is what skills I have or could acquire that would make me invaluable to someone else.

    So I’m going to learn and practice various art techniques before I go, then I’m going to pack with me some superior art tools, things like durable brushes, colors unavailable locally, steel chisels, etc. Then I’m going to try to find a wealthy patron among the nobility or the Church. I’m no fancy artist today, but compared to the techniques of the time I could be pretty good indeed. Miraculous, even.

    I could also learn to do pottery, porcelain, etc. In later centuries, people make entire fortunes figuring out how to make and reproduce glazes and colors that no one else can do.

    I could also learn to make musical instruments that are ahead of their time and crafted with techniques that hadn’t been discovered at the time. The pipe organ already exists, but takes centuries to develop.

    An entirely different route would be to acquire and take with you some geographic maps and sell the locations of various mines that won’t be discovered until later. You can make up some mumbo jumbo about how you find them.

  52. Jimmie says:

    1) Da Vinci’s Codex
    2) This book: http://www.howeverythingworks.org/HEW1epbBI.html
    3) A small hand-shovel (to bury 4 and 5 in case.
    4) Five or six Crown Royal bags filled with gold nuggets.
    5) Five or six Crown Royal bags filled with moderate-sized precious gemstones.
    6) Netbook loaded to the gills with Rosetta Stone language software and a hand-crank to generate power in case.

    I’ll travel light and take the chance that I land near enough to human habitation that I won’t need survival gear. I’m not worried about cold-weather gear since I’ll be getting to Europe during the Medieval Warm Period. Of course, I’ll want to be out of there before the Little Ice Age (post-1300) kicks in.

    Basically, I need enough precious metal or gemstones to buy whatever I need while I’m there and to finance the production of enough things to keep me (and the city I will end up building around me) funded for a good long time. Entrepreneurism FTW!

  53. Tim says:

    I like Unary’a idea of taking time to prepare.

    I’d spend a month on European geography, a year or two working on language skills, particularly Latin and French, maybe a decade on local and world history, another decade on survival and first aid, a few years on online education to help my pre-time travel career, and finally, when I’m about 80 or so, I’ll be ready to cross over.

  54. Corsair says:

    One suitcase…

    Alright, I’d take a LOT of salt with me. It’s an excellent barter good. I’d also take several medical textbooks, especially pharmacology-based ones, particularly on the making of penicillin. I’d take a small revolver with six shots just to be safe. Make sure I was given every vaccine the world has to offer before I go. Get a English-Ecclesiastical Latin dictionary. Try to learn the basics of Old English. My Bible and a copy of The Lord of the Rings, to maintain my sanity. Then I’d set myself up as a healer in Medieval England, try to get myself into the royal court as a Rasputin kind of guy.

  55. Jim says:

    My son just finished reading a book called “Hatchet” about a 12 year old boy who finds himself stranded in the middle of the Canadian wilderness with nothing but the titled hatchet. Might have some pointers there.

    Also, at 6 feet and 270 lbs, I think I’d be quite a bit bigger than anyone else, right?

  56. Badger says:

    The language barrier…yeah. Fine I suppose if you landed in England; it’d sound a lot like the Ozarks. But the rest of Europe…I’d be ok if I would up in a French or German-controlled part of the country, but didn’t the Swedes and Italians have a lot of influence then too? I’d be hooped if I would up in their areas. And the Slavic areas would be a complete pooch-screw for me! I’d wind up expending all my ammunition in the first day when they wanted to burn me at the stake or confine me to an asylum or something.

    But for reals?

    I’m with the folks bringing small arms. A reliable handgun or two- large-bore (.45 or better, in case you need to punch through armour). I’d take an auto and a revolver both, as the revolver is going to be way more reliable, but the auto could save you in a firefight. Ammo, for sure- and a reloading kit. I can make gunpowder on site, and the bullets wouldn’t be too hard to make- but I’d want a lot of extra casings.

    My Tilley hat, as I said.

    Hard currency: gold for sure, but cut gems might be worth taking. They’d have to be exchanged more carefully than gold, though.

    I get LASIK’d before I went so I can leave the eyeglasses at home.

    A Zippo with lots of extra flints. Fuel isn’t a problem, it’ll run off almost anything flammable.

    That comfy underwear I mentioned.

    Antibiotics in pill form.

    Condoms. There were some nasty things kicking around back then. Also, more antibiotics.

    Microfiche cheat-sheets for food preparation and preservation (including beer!); basic chemical formulae; significant historic events (you HAVE to know the date and time of every solar eclipse, you know!); names and personal data of important political and scientific figures (religious ones as well, actually); details on technological development for the entire 1000-year period; geological survey records for the whole of Europe (helpful for locating mineral deposits); detailed directions on stellar navigation (and corresponding star charts for the time); religious instruction for the various factions controlling Europe; a LifeStraw and as many filters as I can get; Immodium tablets; and a hand-held magnifier for reading the microfiche.

    A suturing kit with loads of extra suture material. Stitches will be given!

    I think that would let me last a while. Maybe not for ten years, but you never know.

  57. scragar says:

    Before leaving I’d of course seek medical help for dealing with the various diseases and problems that were common back then.

    The winter coat is rather important, where I live there wasn’t any villages or anything until the turn of the 19th century, so I think if I remain in place, but not in time I’ve got a bit of a trek ahead of me.

    The first goal is food, where I live water would have been easy to find, and a bit of wood to make a fire and purify it would have been easy to set up with a bit of time and effort. I assume I could set a few traps for small animals using some fishing line, which would last for quite some time while taking up minimal space. I’d also pack emergency rations.

    For when I do come across a human setlement I’m going to assume the language barrier is a real problem, so I’d need something to trade, small gems(even if they are fake diamonds) of any kind would be very valuable, but only for trading to those who already posses wealth(otherwise I risk trouble), for the average farm hand I would pack a supply of valuable fabrics, and even a book or two(books are rare, anyone from them would recognise this). Never show more than I could give up.
    Once I have traded and earned some trust I would attempt to use my future knowledge of make the farming procedures more efficient in exchange for food and residence.

    After everything I have in bold with any free space I would carry detail notes on any disasters for the period I am going, this includes natural disasters, pandemics or man made problems(battles/wars, ritual killings, invasions or attacks etc). This would let me fore warn people, and earn me more favour with the locals.

  58. @jim
    yes, i’m sure most of us could make livings as ‘geeks’ at some circus (or just giants)
    6’4 = massive by those standards
    I also read that book way back in high school, it’s pretty good.

  59. Aergoth says:

    Well, I think I’ve thought mine out well enough. Link explains it all.

  60. Ryan says:

    Wow, I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Connie Willis yet.

    Doomsday Book provides background on the training an individual would need to survive during the Black Plauge. Her time travel books are great, but this one’s not an easy read – lots of death throughout.


  61. Maroon says:

    Enough money to get me a full vaccination cocktail and education in Romance languages before I went.

    Besides that, a survival kit, chocolate, science textbooks (mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany) a teddy bear, a shotgun, and sexy lingerie.

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