All this could be yours!
First though, some housekeeping. Health and safety, right? You can just skip down to the ‘profit and fun’ sections if you want (I made them extra noticeable for exactly that reason) but you're going to need to know this.
In order to get anywhere, you will need impossibly complicated coordinates.
The roadmap of history is also the roadmap of divergent realities. Going back in time might be simpler, but if you’re going into the future you’ll need to pick between divergences. If you do visit the past, you’ve immediately created an infinity-load of new realities which will probably affect your reality-cluster indexing-system. You need to be prepared for all these things if you ever want to get home.
Getting a map might seem like the obvious solution. In the Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits, the bandits steal God’s map of time. It can only be described as ‘a good start’. When you’ve sorted out the navigation problem, or if you don’t care, everything else will seem inconsequential. But it’s those seemingly unimportant things that will kill a time-traveller, no matter your map:
It destroyed the aliens in War of the Worlds. Remember how Homer Simpson went back in time once and sneezed on a dinosaur and they all died?
Diseases adapt rapidly. That’s the advantage of generational diversification spread over several rapidly breeding populations of hundred-billions (aka evolution). You’re facing all possible mutations of every disease ever: bubonic plague, malaria, scarlet fever, cholera, influenza, smallpox, tuberculosis, leprosy and all of their drunk, angry cousins. If you travel into the future, there are potentially countless genetically-engineered afflictions too: leper-pox, laser-flu, grey-goo nanobot disease, sky-AIDS and fungal infections that reanimate your dead body with a lust for juicy human brains.
If you make it home, you need to be decontaminated. If not, you’ve killed all of us too. Thanks. You’re terrible at time-travelling.
GET SOME INNOCULATIONS
All over the world, whether the population is rich or poor, black or white, Neolithic or a space-faring civilization of chrome-plated cyborgs, some folks will fear and hate you. Even if your skin colour doesn’t give people culture shock, you won’t speak the language or know anything about local customs.
Local customs are... very important
It goes without saying that nobody should see you using your time machine. If you don’t keep your head down you’ll have stupid Jean Claude Van Damme policing your time-line, Time Cop style, before you know it. That’s why you need to think about what you leave behind, too:
If you’re going to criminally exploit time, you need to keep an especially low profile. Not only do you have local authorities to worry about – all those traditional coppers and narks – you’ve got the chance of time-police too. You also have my fullest endorsement. Maybe swing by and pick me up on your way past, eh?
You will be able to easily research and fake the paperwork you’ll need in the past. You can even assume someone’s legal identity, which is probably safest. But if you’re going to the future, you’re totally screwed. What if they have DNA biometrics and brain-scans? Will you need to be tattooed with a barcode or some futuristic QR code?
Not a time-traveler. Not seeking wealth and debauchery. No need to further inspect my documents. No need to arrest me. I am not a droid you're looking for.
Will you need a letter of recommendation from the robo-pope? Will you be enslaved by alien ghosts from beyond the stars? If you’re going into the future, you need to be prepared for all this and more. So don’t get carried away when we approach this topic:
----- PROFIT -----
FINALLY! What we’re all here for! Enough of this health and safety nonsense, let’s get down to some real business.
The obvious way of making money from time-travel is past-trading – using your fore-knowledge of events like lottery numbers, stock market movements and sports victories to make huge piles of money.
This was the day the Time Cops were on strike
It can be tricky, though. Random events like a lottery draw won’t turn out the same as ‘last time’ (your version of the past). Random is always going to be random. When you’re in the flow of time, you don’t get to pick which reality you travel down. Yes, there will be a version (infinite versions) of the universe where the result turns out the same as your own past. But there will more versions (also infinite versions, technically) where they turn out every single other possible way too. At odds of nearly 14 million to 1 for the UK lottery, for every single winning version of you there are fourteen million losers. Sport can be random, too, but I guess vague win-lose bets on absolutely certain matches might pay off eventually.
The stock market will fluctuate differently, especially if you start making quick, incisive, profitable deals. Your best bet is to invest a small, unnoticed amount of money into small time companies like Fox, Ford Motors, Volkswagen, Coca Cola, British Petroleum, Glaxo-Smith Kleine… anyone evil. It won’t be free, obviously. Then you bury your stock certificates and dig them up in, say, a century’s time. It’ll require forethought, planning, an element of risk and probably also legal consultation, which isn’t free either. Then you’ll need to travel into a future where they have similar money to ours and your stocks are still valuable. You’ll have to deal with quite a lot of attention when you cash these stocks in, too. They’d be worth billions. It might attract attention, but that’s your damn problem. So is importing these huge piles of money into your ‘home time’.
Wow, this isn’t what usually happens in the mornings!
Another way of making small, unnoticed amounts of money is antique smuggling.* Small, old collectables like weapons, comic books, medals, lamps, old videos, old coins… art.
“I was astonished when I went into my attic and found a confirmed collection of Picasso/Van Gogh/Munch/Da Vinci masterpieces. How much do you think they’d be worth? Really? That much? I am astonished and surprised, officer! Why, to think that I am now a humble, eccentric millionaire! Gosh! Why, I have other attics and garages and warehouses that I recently brought, maybe it’s worth checking them for completely unexpected treasures…”
*All physical articles are vulnerable to dimensionally relative values – including you
----- FUN -----
This is what we all came here for, right? I mean, there’s no point going back in time to make the world a better place. It’s already a better place in an infinite number of alternate realities. If you want to live in a better world, find the coordinates for one and live there happily. But if you want to have fun with time-travel, we can have some fun with time-travel!
See these decadent, amoral, bloated, corrupt versions of beloved fictional characters? It could be you!
You can find a lover or five, in the style of Goodnight Sweetheart. Marry someone even. Pig out on honey-glazed beef/ham and roast dodo. Sleep in for a couple of months. Go back in time and see if Cleopatra was ever that sexy! Ever tried spit-roast stegosaur? You’d need one hell of a spit! There’s probably a world out there in which dinosaurs evolved from men! Hell, there’s probably a world out there in the multiverse populated entirely by horny clones of your favourite sex icon. There’s somewhere you can turn yourself into a cyborg with multi-spectrum eyes and go-go-gadget legs! You can get your brain preserved forever in a robotic jar-body!
There’s a future out there somewhere in which entirely licenced and legitimate surgeons will give you a bigger penis – no more of this junk email chicanery. Ever wondered how you perform in bed? Go back in time by half an hour and have sex with yourself.
Bearing in mind, your ‘home reality’ and your entire past will remain unchanged. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – nothing you do to yourself or history will make anything be magically deleted. If you want to go properly crazy? Riding into battle on dinosaurs with Ghengis Khan? Being Jack the Ripper? Ruling an entire world with your time-looped ill-gotten gains, proclaiming decrees from atop your golden pyramid decorated with statues of S&M while you piss apocalyptic, nuclear fire and have sex with demonic unicorns?
There’s no online image for that. Consider Rule 34 broken
The universe won't implode, you won't fracture time and nobody will care. Well, apart from the locals. They might get a bit rebellious. So the ultimate survival rule of the whole multiverse is pretty much the same as Google’s company motto – Don’t Be Evil.