Travel power adapter

Powering Your Gadgets While You Travel

In Accessories, Keep Things Running by Dustin Main16 Comments

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

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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 Can Go Wrong?

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 Can Go Wrong?

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.

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.

About the Author

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".

Comments

  1. 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?

  2. 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. Author

    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.

  5. 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/

    1. 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. 🙂

      1. 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/

  6. 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

  7. 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.

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