Welcome to the Too Many Adapters resource page, a compilation of tips, advice and resources gained from many years of working with and writing about travel technology. This page is, and will always be, a work in progress — we’ll be updating it all the time, and if there’s anything missing that you’d like to find out more about, just get in touch.
Before You Go
Consider Your Destination
Where you’re planning to go should help determine the gear you’ll travel with. Start with power — if you’re going somewhere that has different wall sockets to those at home, you’ll need a travel adapter. If the voltage is different, you may need a transformer as well.
If heavy rain is a possibility, waterproof luggage and dry sacks will prevent your gadgets from drowning. Cases and zipped bags help keep dust at bay — buy padded versions if you can, to soak up some of the inevitable bumps and knocks. If crime is an issue, avoid brand name or expensive-looking gear, and keep everything out of sight in a plain backpack or similar when possible.
Travelling without insurance is risky — if you’re seriously injured, emergency evacuation and treatment can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. When considering a policy, also take note of coverage for lost, stolen or damaged electronics.
Many policies limit the amount they’ll pay on individual items to a few hundred dollars or less, so make sure you’re actually as covered as you think you are. It’s sometimes possible to specify high-cost items (at extra cost), or pick up dedicated electronics insurance if you need it. Read the fine print!
If you’re planning to use your phone overseas, it’s usually much cheaper to buy a SIM card from a local company than roam with your plan from back home. For this to work, your phone needs to be unlocked — if you got it free or discounted with a contract from your cell company, it may not be.
You’ll also need to consider charging requirements and network support — just make sure that your smartphone is ready for your trip before you leave, as it’s usually harder to sort things out while you’re away.
Choosing the Right Gear
When choosing electronics to travel with, you’ll often end up juggling several competing factors. It’s important to keep the weight down — but the gear still needs to be durable to handle the knocks of the road. Avoiding high-end, brand-name gadgets helps put off thieves and save money for the actual travel — but warranties and reliability matter, especially when you’re far from home.
You’ll always end up with a compromise of some sort, but it’s important to know what you’re actually compromising on.
Lugging around heavy bags and suitcases is one of the least enjoyable parts of the travel experience, so try to reduce weight as much as possible. Check out the total weight of anything you buy, including adapters and chargers. Cheap laptops are particularly bad in this regard: not only do they usually weigh a lot, but their chargers are often huge and heavy.
Remember that all of your electronics should travel in your day pack / carry-on luggage, and airline weight limits can be particularly severe.
Resources: Airline Luggage Regulations
Your gear will get a hard time when you travel — dust, water, humidity, heat, cold, knocks and drops among them. Avoid electronics that break easily — check the reviews for anything you’re planning on buying, and if there are more than a few reports of early failure, look for something else.
In general, brand-name gear is a good thing. Warranties are more likely to be international in nature, and honoured at all. Problem-solving is easier — there are entire websites dedicated to iPhone problems, for example — and in some cases you will get a higher-quality product by buying from a known brand.
Don’t discount generic or less well known gear entirely, however. Generic laptops use generic parts — something you’ll be very happy about when your laptop charger dies in a small town in the Philippines and the nearest Apple or Sony store is a plane ride away.
Prices also tend to be lower, which is always a good thing, and a plain black phone or laptop is less of a target for thieves than something with logos emblazoned all over it. We take these factors and more into account when choosing our ‘Picks’ — the best items for travelers across a range of categories.
Staying connected to the online world has become increasingly important to travellers in recent years, and while it’s getting easier all the time, it’s still nowhere near as straightforward as back home.
Check online accommodation reviews to find whether a place has free wi-fi for guests, and whether it’s reliable. To speed up your internet connection, consider investing in an external wireless card (Windows / Mac) to boost signal strength and, with a bit of software magic, even use multiple wi-fi networks at once.
If you’re using a network that only lets you connect a single device, don’t worry — there are ways to share your connection for free or cheap once you’ve got it. It’s also worth finding out whether the city you’re staying in has free wi-fi in downtown areas (an increasing number do), or whether public libraries, phone companies or cafe chains offer something similar.
Calls, SMS and Cellular Data
As people become used to having mobile data on their smartphones and tablets at home, they increasingly expect the same thing when they travel. While a domestic trip rarely poses a problem, high international roaming charges and locked devices make things more difficult overseas. There are several options available, some cheaper and easier than others.
Check with your carrier to see if they offer free or discounted international roaming options — a small but growing number of cell companies include some form of global roaming in their existing plans, or make it available at a reasonable cost.
If they don’t, find out whether your phone has an unlocked SIM card slot. The chances of this vary by country and carrier — in most (but not all) cases, a discounted phone purchased with a fixed contract will be locked to the carrier you bought it from, and other SIM cards won’t work.
You can ask your carrier to unlock the phone if necessary (some will, some won’t), or use a warranty-voiding third-party service to do so. To avoid such problems entirely, buy an unlocked smartphone to start with.
Once you have an unlocked phone, buy a local SIM card at your destination, and use it for the duration of your stay. Prices for the card and a reasonable monthly call, text and data package generally range from $10-$60 depending on where you are. If you’re only spending a few days in each country, it may be worth considering an international SIM or rented Mi-Fi device (see below) instead.
Mi-Fi (Mobile Hotspots)
For those who can’t use local SIM cards, or don’t want to deal with the hassle of buying them, Mi-Fi mobile hotspots are another option. These pocket-sized gadgets typically let you wirelessly connect five or more devices to them, and share cellular data among them all. Many companies offer a rental service for Mi-Fi hotspots, spanning one or more countries.
We’ve reviewed Mi-Fi devices from companies like XCom Global, Tep Wireless and KeepGo in the past, and typically found them a useful, albeit relatively pricey, choice. Depending on the company, your trip duration, budget and data requirements, they may or may not be an affordable option. Always check the fine print carefully.
If you’d prefer to own a Mi-Fi device, these can be purchased unlocked, and then used with local SIM cards. If you travel regularly and need to get several devices online, this option may be worth considering.
Security and Backup
Security isn’t a sexy topic, but it’s an important one when you travel. You’re often less secure — both physically and electronically — when you travel, and the consequences of an attack can be expensive, dangerous and hard to recover from.
You’re more likely to use public Wi-fi when you travel, especially if you don’t have access to cellular data. Airports and train stations, cafes and bars, hotels and guesthouses all often provide access to their customers. This is very convenient for travellers, but comes at cost: security.
It’s frighteningly easy to find programs that will automatically scan a wireless network and grab usernames, passwords and other useful details as they pass by.
With hundreds or thousands of people having access to most public networks, it only takes one malicious individual to cause real problems. There are several ways to reduce the risk of using public networks, but the simplest and most comprehensive is to use a VPN to automatically encrypt everything that you send and receive.
If public Wi-fi is a big security risk, public computers are an even bigger one. It’s easy for an attacker to install what’s known as key logging software onto these computers, which capture sensitive information as it’s typed in and then send it off for later use. Combine that with the usual mixture of viruses, malware and other software to be found such computers, and they’re just a disaster waiting to happen.
We recommend against using public terminals (including internet cafes, hostels and hotel business centres) unless you absolutely have no other choice. While some terminals have good security measures in place, many don’t — and it’s hard for most people to tell the difference.
If you really must use them, avoid logging on to internet banking or similar services, and change the passwords on the other accounts you use (from a secure computer!) as soon as possible.
When you’re in unfamiliar surroundings and potentially carrying more valuables than usual, theft is a real risk. There’s plenty you can do to reduce the chances of being a victim, however. Avoid using electronics on the street or other public places — keep them in a bag or pocket until you’re somewhere less visible, and off the table in restaurants and cafes.
Opt for plain, somewhat worn day packs to carry your gear around, rather than flashy, brand-name luggage, and keep the zips locked where possible. There are plenty of other travel security options, too, including alarms and trackers for when the worst happens.
As always, if you do find yourself face to face with someone set on stealing your equipment or money despite your best efforts, give it to them. Possessions are replaceable, a life is not.
We talk a lot about backup on this site, and with good reason — it’s very easy to set up a system that works for you, yet is usually ignored until it’s too late and those irreplaceable travel memories have been lost. Our basic rule with data of any sort is “if it’s only stored in one place, it’s something you don’t mind losing” … and sadly, we know far too many people who have done exactly that after a travel mishap.
Start by remembering to copy photos off camera SD cards every day or two. If you are travelling with a laptop, buy an external hard drive and use an application like Crashplan to automatically back up everything that matters to that drive. If you’ve don’t travel with a laptop, you can use a combination of an SD card reader and a wireless hard drive to do the same thing from a tablet or phone.
It’s important to keep a backup ‘in the cloud’ as well — there’s not much point having a copy of everything on an external drive if it gets stolen, lost or damaged at the same time as your main device. Crashplan can be set to back up to the cloud automatically, and use one of the tools listed below to upload photos taken on phones and tablets automatically once they’re connected to wi-fi.
Don’t forget to back up the rest of your phone and/or tablet either — as well as those photos, there’s often plenty of other stuff on there that you don’t want to lose either.
Useful Apps for Travellers
With over a million apps in each of the Apple and Google app stores alone, listing out every decent travel app would be a full-time job by itself. Instead, here are 25 smartphone and tablet apps that we think most travellers will find well worth considering.
- Google Translate – an invaluable free translation app, especially on Android devices where it works offline. (iOS /Android, free)
- Tripit – it does one thing, and it does it well: organising your travel. Tripit pulls data from your email confirmations for flights, accommodation, car rental and more, and provides it in a simple, offline itinerary. (iOS /Android, free)
- Triposo – A comprehensive offline travel guide for much of the world. Slick and easy to use, it’s definitely worth a look. Just remember to download the guides on a decent Wi-fi connection, as they’re not small. (iOS /Android, free)
- Snapseed – if you want to make your photos look better before you share them with friends and family, this is the app to do it with. Forget Instagram filters, Snapseed’s powerful tools give you a better, more natural result. (iOS / Android, free)
- Google Maps – the best online maps got more useful for travellers recently — the latest version of the app introduced offline walking directions and unlimited saved locations, which allow navigation even without a data connection. (iOS /Android, free)
- HERE Maps – if you spend a lot of time without an internet connection and need working maps, this app provides a better experience and more features while offline than the competition. (iOS / Android and others, Free)
- Pocket – saves any web page to read offline at a later date. Handy for both travel information and lengthy articles to provide entertainment on yet another ten hour bus ride. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- XE Currency – there are dozens of currency converters out there, but XE remains one of the best. It converts instantly from one currency to any others, and as long as it’s synced exchange rates at some point, will work offline. (iOS /Android, free)
- Airport Zoom – as well as looking up flight information and delays, this app has detailed terminal maps for over 120 airports. It needs a data connection to work, but is a great way of navigating around large, unfamiliar airports. (iPad, free)
- Yelp – this business review app is as useful while travelling as at home, especially in countries like the US where it’s very widely used. Restaurants, bars, gas stations and more, at the tap of a screen. (iOS / Android, free)
- Skyscanner – for looking up flights on-the-go, Skyscanner has the most flexible app. It’s easy to use, while still offering options like full-month searches and an ‘Everywhere’ destination for those with few plans. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- Speedtest – need to know whether the wi-fi is usable before you order your meal or book a room for the night? Speedtest will quickly tell you whether it works or if you need to move on to somewhere else. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- Duolingo – if you want to learn the language of the countries you’re visiting, we haven’t found a better option than Duolingo. It’s simple and fun to use, covers several European languages and gives you basic conversation skills within a few hours. (iOS / Android, free)
- LastPass – sick of coming up, and trying to remember, dozens of strong online passwords? LastPass works with the browsers on your desktop, tablet and phone, and will securely generate and/or save your login information for any website. You only ever need to remember the password for the app itself. (iOS, Android and others, free on desktop, $12/year for mobile apps)
- Trail Wallet – tracks travel expenses quickly and easy, and helps you stick to your budget. Plenty of graphs and general prettiness, and can export to a spreadsheet for use elsewhere. We reviewed it here. (iOS, free for limited version, $3.99 to unlock)
- Pocket Casts – sick of having nothing to listen to on long journeys? Get into the world of podcasts and never be bored again (as long as you’ve got battery life). Pocket Casts is easily the best podcast listening app we’ve used, with dozens of features that lift it above the rest. (iOS / Android, $4.99)
- Evernote – create and sync notes, web pages, images, sound recordings and more, and access them from the app or any web browser. It’s a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ app, and we use it a lot. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- Sit or Squat – let’s talk about poo. Actually, let’s not — but when you’re travelling in some parts of the world, it’s not an unusual topic of conversation. Sit or Squat is like Yelp for public toilets, rating and helping you find the nearest one. (iOS /Android, free)
- Wifi Map – mentioned earlier, this app downloads a database of free Wi-fi hotspots around the world, and helps you find the nearest ones when you’re offline. It includes any passwords you may need. (iOS / Android, free)
- Skype – the grand-daddy of Voice of IP apps, Skype lets you make and receive calls from anywhere with a decent internet connection. Premium services let you call real phones as well, or provide a standard phone number for others to call you. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- Google Voice – if you’re US-based, Google Voice lets you make and receive calls and texts to your existing number (or one you choose) via a data connection when you’re travelling, usually free of charge.
- Google Authenticator – for extra security when logging into websites, this app provides an ever-changing code that needs to be entered as well as your password. It works offline, and is supported by Google, Facebook, WordPress and many others. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- Trip Advisor – the biggest crowd-sourced travel site on the web, Trip Advisor makes up in volume what it sometimes lacks in coherence. Addresses and descriptions of how to find a hotel or restaurant are particularly useful. (iOS, Android and others, free)
- World Clock – while iOS devices have an inbuilt world clock, others don’t. World Clock provides an at-a-glance widget and app to track the time back home, or anywhere else in the world. (Android, free)
- Airbnb – with so many accommodation booking apps out there, it’s hard to narrow them down. We’re a fan of the Airbnb app, however — it’s fast and comprehensive, with attractive photos and a useful availability summary. (iOS / Android, free. You can use this link to get $20 off your first booking.)