Travel Adapters: Important Factors to Consider Before You Buy
Why you should think twice before making an adapter selection
You’re excited to travel the world – you’re one of nearly 87 million Americans who travel to global destinations every year. Your suitcase is loaded with all the essentials: passport, sunscreen, clothing for different types of weather, non-perishable snacks, a selfie stick. You’re as prepared as you can possibly be, but there’s one thing you, and many other international tourists, forget to pack – a travel adapter.
Most other countries use different power sockets, which render your standard North American plugs obsolete. Some hotels are generous enough to lend you an adapter, but you can’t bank on this, especially if you’re traveling to third-world destinations or lodging in hostels or Airbnb accommodations. Your travel adapter is a mandatory tech accessory, and without it, you may not be able to charge your devices.
Why isn’t there a universal plug?
Travel adapters are necessary because there isn’t a universal electric plug. When Thomas Edison first experimented with electricity in the late 1800s, there were other scientists around the world, like Nikola Tesla, working on their own power sources. Many other countries, like Germany and the UK, felt the American plug was bulky, unsafe, and less efficient. So, rather than adopt the U.S. plug as the global standard, they set out to further refine their own solutions.
Today, there are 15 different types of plugs. Some can be used in multiple regions – Type G is a three-pronged plug that works in the UK, Ireland, Malta, Malaysia and Singapore – while others are specific to single countries – Type O is exclusive to Thailand.
A universal electric plug would make life easier. You could purchase one adapter, and you’d be set for every trip. But unfortunately, when buying a travel adapter, you need to take your destination into account as well as a few other factors.
Travel adapters don’t convert voltage
Sometimes, a travel adapter isn’t enough. Different countries not only utilize different plugs but also different voltages. In the U.S., the standard plug generates 100-120V. However, a lot of countries abroad double that power, generating 200-240V with each socket. Some devices may be built to handle the sudden increase in voltage. Others may burn out or short circuit. To avoid any permanent damage to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, it could be useful to invest in a voltage converter.
Voltage converters ensure your devices charge as usual regardless of where you are in the world. To determine if you need one, you’ll need to start by checking your devices. Most device plugs should have their voltage specs listed on the back or in a user’s manual. For example, an iPhone power adapter is built to handle between 100-240V. This means you can safely charge your phone abroad without any concerns.
However, let’s say you have a device that tops out at 110V. You’ll need a voltage adapter, like the Ceptics PU-200, which converts overseas voltage to the U.S. standard of 110V. This 200-watt converter also has 3 outlets and 4 USB inputs, so one adapter can cover all your needs and those of your family or travel companions.
Once you’ve settled the issue of a voltage adapter, it’s time to narrow down your choices for your travel adapter.
Stick to single-region adapters
Of the 15 different types of plugs that exist around the world, some are crafted for multiple regions while others have a narrower jurisdiction. If your travel itinerary is limited to one country or region, try to find an adapter that’s specifically for this area. It will save you a bit of money, and it’ll also save you the trouble of traveling with a bulky adapter that you don’t need. Quite often, you might come across an adapter that has several detachable pieces – an all-in-one adapter you can use anywhere. If you travel often to several countries, this could be beneficial. But for most travelers, this is unnecessary.
Additionally, the larger all-in-one travel adapters often fall out of wall sockets and fail to fit perfectly. Smaller adapters for specific regions help you avoid these complications. Take for instance the IG-9C – it’s an industrial-grade European travel adapter that’s lightweight and works specifically for Europe. If you’re just spending a weekend in Amsterdam, this adapter is perfect.
Pay attention to the pins
Many travelers select their travel adapters in a hurry, and they fail to notice the number of pins. Several adapters are only compatible with two-pin plugs. This is fine for charging smartphones or tablets. But bigger devices like Macbooks have three-pin plugs. Skipping over this detail could mean your computer is out of commission for most of your trip.
Avoid buying your adapter at the airport
If you’re thinking about picking up an adapter at the airport convenience store, think again. You’ll likely pay twice as much. Most items, inclusive of food, books, and tech, are marked up at airports. For starters, there’s no competition. If you have a last-minute need, you don’t have any other options – you can’t shop around and make an informed decision. Also, airports incur bigger fees for product deliveries, and that extra expense is reflected in the price of their goods. Additionally, it’s rare that there will be a skilled salesperson on hand to help you choose the right adapter. So, not only are you spending more than you need to, but you aren’t even guaranteed to leave with the right product. To get the best deal on your adapter, make your purchase before you cross the threshold into your local airport.
Consider travel power strips
If you’re traveling with your family, that means you need an adapter for each family member – and possibly for each of their devices. This expense can add up quickly. As an alternative, consider a travel power strip. Similar to a power strip you’d use at home, a travel power strip has several outlets and accommodates numerous devices without overloading the socket.
However, this power strip has been adapted for your international destination and accommodates multiple voltages. Ceptics’ Portable Travel Power Strip Charger has space for 2 inputs, and there’s a version for Europe, Australia, the UK, and the US. Equipped with 2 USA outlets, 2 USB (up to 2.4A) & Micro USB Cable - Perfect for Travel - use with Cell Phones, iPhone, iPad, Laptops & other devices around most countries in the world. You are able to charge 5 devices with only 1 outlet so you don't have to search around the hotel room looking for extra outlets.
Think about USB chargers
Lastly, consider using USB chargers as your primary power source while abroad. Many hotels have shifted focus to provide additional USB outlets in their rooms. And they’ve done so in creative ways, with USB ports built into alarm clocks, lamps, and charging docks. In the case of smaller devices like phones and tablets, wall chargers aren’t always necessary. You may be able to circumvent your travel adapter needs altogether or at least buy less than you originally intended.
While you pack and plan your itinerary, keep travel adapters front of mind. They initially seem like a minor item, but they can make the difference between staying connected and lugging around a dead device.