Powering your gadgets while you travel

18

So you’ve got your bag full of gadgets for your upcoming trip overseas.  How are you going to keep them all going?

Keeping your gadgets charged and working for you can be more trouble than meets the eye.  Different plug adapters in other countries?  Yep.  Different voltages that can leave your gadgets zapped and dead if you plug them in?  You bet.

Fortunately it’s easier than ever to keep your gadgets ready for world travel.

 

What you need to know:

 

Plugs

 

power5

Around the world, different countries use different AC adapter plugs.  The following are the most common.

North America – Flat parallel prongs
Australia / NZ – Angled flat prongs
Europe – Rounded prongs
UK / HK / Malaysia – Rectangular prongs

 

How do you know?

Check out the visuals.  If your plug doesn’t look like the ones in the country you’re heading to, you might be in trouble.

 

What might happen if your gear doesn’t have the right plug?

You know the saying “can’t fit a square peg in a round hole?”  It turns out what they were trying to tell you was how to power your laptop when traveling.  Wrong plug = no power.

 

Solution

power6A Universal Plug adapter.

Simple and reasonably elegant, a good universal power adapter will accept all of your gadgets (one at a time) and let you plug into nearly all outlets abroad.

 

Voltages

 

power2While North America (Canada, USA, Mexico) and parts of Central and South America run on 110/120 volts, the vast majority of the world runs on 220/230 volts.  In the past, this was a big problem for electronics, but nowadays most camera, notebook and mobile phone chargers will be made for both voltages.

 

How do you know?

Check your gadget’s power adapters. Look for the input voltage (see the image below).

 

What might happen if your gear isn’t made for the different voltage?

Best case, not much.  Worst case you may blow a fuse, or even fry your device.  Remember that just because the plug looks the same, it doesn’t mean the voltage is.

 

What to look for

Solution

Voltage converter or transformer.

It’s really not too often you will find a need for one of these any longer.  Most modern tech like cameras, phones, and laptops are good to go.  On the other hand, things like razors, hair dryers and the like might be more hassle than they are worth.

 

The future

Though most of your tech gadgets will likely be dual voltage already, it is still a pain to haul around a bunch of separate adapters.  In my kit alone I have one for my camera, one for my laptop, 2 for smartphones, and one for a Bluetooth headset.  Fortunately, three will charge by USB, leaving only 2 bulky power blocks (notebook, DSLR) in my bag.

The future is getting brighter as well.  More devices, including smartphones, music players, and even some digital cameras are able to charge via USB.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to plug into a laptop to charge though — many now come with their own mini wall adapters.  If you have a few devices, pick up a travel surge bar with multiple USB power plugs and you’re set.

 

Conclusion

A few minutes checking out your tech gear before you go can help avert some serious power problems on the road.  Pack your plug adapter and hit the road.

18 Responses

  1. DLT

    I have the Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger. I like that it gives me 3 plugs and 2 USB charging ports. The only issue is that it will only work with 120V, 60Hz. Does a similar device exist that will support 110-240V 50-60Hz?

    Reply
    • Dustin

      I actually blew up a belkin mini surge bar (similar to your’s, without the USB) on day 2 of my first RTW trip for the same reason. It actually took out my plug adapter as well, but fortunately it was just the fuse that went in there.

      I’ll do some research and write a post about 110-220v surge protectors in the future.

      Reply
  2. Gary

    The universal plug adapter or as mine was called “world” plug adapter doesn’t work in South Africa. I took mine on my last trip expecting to work. Not universal or world completely 🙂

    Reply
    • Dustin

      Unfortunately there are more than a dozen different plug varieties worldwide (and that’s the “major” ones). There probably isn’t a 100% solution, so best to check before you take off if you can. Worst case, you can almost certainly pick up an adapter for the country while you’re there.

      I’ve used the Kensington unit listed above, and it’s been great in 25+ countries over the past 5 years. So far so good!

      Reply
  3. Stefan

    I took a “world” adaptor with me and it broke fairly quickly and could never give a reliable connection when in use. There other problem was that the combined weight of the adaptor and original UK plug meant that they kept falling out of the socket and required clever use of books / water bottles / cable ties / pillows etc to keep them in.

    In the end I picked up a couple of replacement cables for my laptop and Camera charger and I much prefer these as they generally fit everywhere and don’t need an adaptor – less things to carry around too!

    I’m yet to find somewhere my 2 flat blade, figure of eight cable doesn’t fit (to charge my camera battery) and the laptop 3 pin (2 flat, 1 circular) is pretty universal too.

    Reply
    • Dustin

      Glad you got yourself a solution Stefan. In my travels, I’ve probably had a 40-50% success rate for being able to use my 2-pronged North American cables, so definitely your mileage may vary on that one.

      I also agree that a universal plug adapter will add some bulk to your bag, and certainly your plug outlet. The boxy UK plug is the bulkiest of them all, so I don’t envy your power problems. It’s especially bad when I need to use the round Euro plugs. I use the book stack / cable hang method to keep the adapter in check as well.

      When I first started traveling, I would stick my plug adapter in a little case meant for a travel mouse since I was afraid of it breaking. It added a little padding just in case. After a couple of years now, I usually leave it out.

      Reply
  4. Dustin

    A fellow traveler pointed out this plug adapter / voltage converter combo a week or two ago. He seems to think it was doing the trick for him, and will cost you about $30+shipping. It’s called “The Walkabout Solution”
    http://www.walkabouttravelgear.com/elect.htm

    I also scouted out a travel surge bar from Belkin that allows 100-240v. Haven’t been able to find that one online yet, but I’ll add it to the article when I do.

    Reply
  5. Jeff

    I have used the eForCity universal adapter for the past few years and have been very happy with it. The same model is marketed by different companies with different brand names. I took a look at the Walkabout Solution link you referenced and they also offer the same model but for much more money. As of this writing, you can get one for less than US$3 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003AMEUS8/) with free shipping on Amazon; although that price fluctuates, you shouldn’t really have to pay more than $5-6 and no way the $17 found on the Walkabout page. Notice that it has a surge protector too.

    I also agree that these days it’s better to just travel with devices which can handle universal voltages rather than buy a converter. I used to carry one device that needed a converter and realized it was worth the relatively small price to replace it with an international version rather than lug around a fairly heavy converter.

    I just published a blog post on this same topic, though covering much more, including thoughts on USB chargers, emergency battery chargers, and an alternative to the Belkin you discussed. If interested, you can find it at: http://www.lengthytravel.com/powering-and-charging-your-electronic-devices-on-the-road/

    Reply
    • Dave Dean

      Funny you mention that adapter – it’s actually the one I use (although I managed to lose mine the other day). I picked it up in Chiang Mai for around that sort of price, and it does the job well. All it really needs to be perfect is a USB socket. 🙂

      Reply
      • Jeff

        Yes, I like mine so much that since I am now in the US visiting family I decided to buy an extra for backup. There is a somewhat similar adapter that includes USB, though it only outputs 0.5A which won’t charge some tablets and will be slow to charge a smartphone. It’s also a bit more expensive, though not too bad. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/9888002198/

    • Brad

      Just a note the product you are referencing is not the Walkabout Solution but the All-in-One adapter. The All-in-One adapter you mentioned does not adjust voltage, while the Walkabout Solution does.

      Reply
  6. Victor

    On this subject, while visiting India recently I picked up an adapter from Belkin that was a surge protecting Indian Plug -> USA Plug with USB. I always carry a heavy duty 3ft (and 3 prong) extention cord I purchased at Home Depot/Lowes. (NOT A Surge Supressing POWER STRIP, A SIMPLE multi-outlet EXTENSON cord). I plug the extension cord into the locally sourced surge protector and 3 surge protected 220v outlets, just be careful not to overload the system.
    An example of the extension cord I found on Amazon:
    http://www.amazon.com/Cables-Go-Cord-Splitter/dp/B000083KIH

    Reply
  7. Philip

    Too many adapters? You bet! Recently travelled to Bangladesh where they have four different types of wall socket in use throughout the country! I found this site to be helpful in determining the adapters needed based on my origin and destination: http://www.whichplug.com/ – hope it’s of use to you guys too.

    Reply

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