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Is there any tech gadget less interesting than a travel adapter? In a world of sleek smartphones and slimline laptops, chunky, bulky adapters are about as unexciting as it gets. Unfortunately, without those ugly adapters, all the sexy tech gear in the world becomes pretty useless when you can’t charge it overseas.
Coming in a ridiculous range of sizes, styles, and weights, with all kinds of different features, it’s not at all easy to separate the good from the garbage. We’ve been using travel adapters for decades, though, and have come up with six of the very best travel adapter options worth buying in 2018.
Best Universal Adapter: LOOP World Adapter
There are about a million different kinds of universal travel adapters out there, and most of them are terrible. They’re often too heavy, don’t fit properly, are unreliable, or have other flaws that mean you’ll end up shopping for a replacement halfway through your vacation.
This LOOP model does all the basics well, at a reasonable price, and throws in a couple of extra features to sweeten the deal. It works in 150+ countries, and is available in a couple of bright colors as well the usual boring black and white options.
As well as converting AC power, the USB sockets at the top have enough juice to charge one phone or tablet, or a pair of lower-draw devices like Kindles. There’s an inbuilt fuse to protect your valuable gear, and very unusually, a spare fuse stored inside the adapter (because who travels with extra fuses in their bag? Nobody, that’s who.)
It’d be nice if it was a little smaller, since it can sometimes block adjoining sockets or rub against power switches, but that’s the only minor criticism of what is otherwise a useful, well-made travel adapter.
Best Lightweight Option: Flight 001 4-In-1
If you’re traveling carry-on only and want something small, light, and reliable, take a look at this Flight 001 model. It’s a universal adapter, but rather than being a typical chunky brick, it’s made up of four lightweight, color-coded pieces that slot neatly together as required, and don’t block adjoining sockets.
While it’s towards the higher end of the travel adapter price range, that cost is reflected in the sturdy build quality. The Flight 001 doesn’t fall out of loose sockets like many other models, and even after several years of bouncing around the world in my luggage, all the pieces of my one work as well as ever.
Unlike some adapters, it can handle both two and three-pin North American plugs, and comes in a small box that helpfully lists which countries each piece works in. There are no USB sockets, though, so if that’s something you’re after, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Best for Going Anywhere: Ceptics GP-12PK Plug Set
So-called “universal” travel adapters typically cover you in the ~150 countries that use North American, UK, European, or Australasian-style sockets. That’s fine if you’re going to those destinations, but when your travels take you to places like South Africa, India, Brazil, and other countries with unusual power sockets, you’re out of luck.
Sure, you can pick up a separate adapter just for that trip, but if you’d rather not deal with that hassle, go for this Ceptics kit instead. It lets you plug your existing devices into almost any socket you can find, and also handles inputs from pretty much anywhere except South Africa as well. If you buy electronics in a random destination, you’ll be able to use them wherever else you go in the world.
The downside, of course, is having up to 12 separate adapters in your bag, especially since they don’t come with a storage bag to keep them together. For that reason, the kit is best for people who return home between trips, rather than those on open-ended travels.
Other than that, it’s a flexible, inexpensive way of ensuring you’ll be able to power your gear, no matter where your journey takes you.
Best for USB Devices: iKits 4-Port USB Wall Charger
If your charging needs tend more towards phones and Kindles than laptops and hair dryers, you’re best to buy a slightly different type of travel adapter. This iKits model has four standard USB-A ports that can output up to 2.4 amps from a single socket, or 6.8 amps (34W) in total.
In real-world terms, that means you’ll be able to simultaneously charge a pair of smartphones or tablets, or up to four lower-power gadgets like Kindles or wireless headphones, all from the one adapter.
The adapter has a North American-style plug built in, with three other connectors that quickly clip on and off, giving compatibility with sockets in most countries. There’s also a little travel bag to keep them in, which is always useful for little accessories like this that are easily lost.
I’ve been using a very similar model for several years now, and it’s one of the most useful travel accessories I own.
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Best for Voltage Conversion: BESTEK 220V to 110V Converter/Adapter
As mentioned earlier, if you’re heading to a country with a different mains power voltage to your home country, you need to carefully check the specifications of whatever you plan to plug into it. If it can’t handle the new voltage on its own, you’ll need a voltage converter to avoid damaging or destroying it.
This BESTEK model converts the 220-240v standard commonly used in Europe, Asia, and Oceania, to the 110v supply used in North America and a few other places. It’s not designed for high-draw devices like hair dryers and straighteners, but smaller gadgets like electric toothbrushes should be fine.
By necessity, it’s much larger than a standard travel adapter — but on the upside, that means it includes three North American three-pin power sockets, plus four USB sockets with 6.8 amps total output. If that doesn’t cover all your power requirements, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re packing!
It includes clip-on plugs for use in 150+ countries, and comes with a two-year warranty.
Best Budget Option: Insten Universal Travel Adapter
When you’re on a strict budget and just want a travel adapter that does the job with a minimum of fuss, this Insten model is where it’s at.
Sold under a variety of names, it’s a generic gadget that does very little beyond converting one plug type into another. There’s basic protection that may or may not do anything to stop your equipment being fried by power surges, and that’s about it.
So why do I recommend it? Because it’s reliable, and for under ten bucks, that’s about all I ask. I picked one up in Thailand years ago, and used it every day for a couple of years. It eventually stopped working, so I bought another one exactly the same, and still use it to this day.
One thing to note, though, is that it fits relatively loosely into European/Asian sockets. Heavy plugs can easily drag it out of the wall entirely, and I’ve sometimes needed to prop it up with whatever I have to hand.