The Travel Outlet Adapter: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

November 25, 2017

The Travel Outlet Adapter: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

In today’s device and screen centered world, having access to a reliable power source to keep all your gadgets charged up has become a task we all deal with on a daily basis. The challenge of staying powered up and plugged in takes a turn into uncharted territory when traveling abroad. Just because you are leaving the country to unwind, doesn’t mean you want to stop using your cellphone to take and share pictures, use your Kindle to catch up on some reading, or use your laptop to capture your memories through blogging. Being able to stay powered up is equally important at home and abroad, and shouldn’t be difficult to do so. With different countries having different types of sockets, add in various voltages used across countries, and now we have new USB chargers; it’s easy to quickly get lost in the details of choosing the right adapter for your travels. That’s where we are hoping to help. We sifted through all the technical stuff and did the research for you. Our comprehensive guide should help put you on the right track to staying powered up and connected abroad. We have structured the guide to follow the below steps, walking you through each phase of the research and buying process. Each step is discussed in further detail within the guide.

  • Step 1: What is a travel adapter, and do I need one?
  • Step 2: What are the socket configurations of the countries I am traveling to?
  • Step 3: What are the voltage ratings of my devices, and what are the voltage ratings of the countries I am traveling to?
  • Step 4: What are the prong configurations of my chargers? 2-Prong, 3-Prong, or USB connections?
  • Step 5: What type of travel adapter is best suited for you?
  • Step 6: Purchase a travel adapter the fits the socket, prong, and voltage configurations based on your devices and destination.

Before we proceed, it is important to note that we are not electricians, nor should our advice be taken without first consulting the manufacturers of your electronic devices and outlet adapters before using them together in any scenario. An improperly used outlet adapter is prone to injury, fire, even death. Further, many devices are draw too much electricity to be safely used with outlet adapters (hair dryers, space heaters, etc.), further adding to our warning to consult the instruction manual and manufacturer before attempting to use any device and outlet adapter together. With that out of the way, lets dive in.

What’s an adapter, and do I need one?

A travel outlet adapter is the link between your electronic devices, and the electric outlets in foreign countries. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t just show up to a new country and plug our chargers in. Each country has a different outlet configuration, and even a different voltage output from the United States, so an adapter will be necessary for charging your devices while abroad. A great resource to figure out the volts and socket types of the country you are traveling to is World Standards – Plugs and Sockets, they have it all!

In addition to a travel adapter, a voltage converter may be needed, which we will cover a bit later. The image below shows a few of the different socket configurations used around the world. These configurations are often referred to as Types, with the USA being Type A or India as Type D. Be sure to make note of the specific socket types you will need based on the countries you will be traveling to, as this will be the first important consideration in selecting your travel adapter.

With a travel adapter, you plug your device’s charger into one end, and then plug the adapter into the outlet. The adapter is equipped with different prong configurations, allowing it to be plugged into various outlets. Once the correct prong configuration is selected for the specific type of outlet, the connection between your device needing a charge, and the electric outlet is complete.

plug device charger into travel adapterselect prong configuration to match socket typeplug travel adapter into wall

With the spread of USB capable devices, many travel outlet adapters have followed suit. These adapters are manufactured to offer only USB connections, or offer USB connections as a supplement to a traditional outlet connection. This is very beneficial when offered as a supplement, as it allows for the charging of multiple devices at once.

Volts, Amps, and Watts, Oh My!

This section of our guide gets a bit more into the technical details, but bear with us. We promise this section will help you better understand how travel adapters work, which will allow you to select an adapter that is right for you so that you can be prepared and stay charged up while abroad.

Three important considerations when evaluating a travel adapter that will work best for you, are the voltage (volts), amperage (amps) and wattage (watts) ratings of your devices. For all the non-electricians out there, these three terms are all related by an equation which can best be explained through an analogy to pipes and plumbing. Volts would be compared to the water pressure flowing through the pipes. Think of your shower, does the water come out with a lot of force (high volts) or just barely dribble out, making it harder to rinse out all that shampoo (low voltage)? Amps, also known as current, can be compared to the volume of water flowing through your pipes. Think of your bathtub, how long does it take to fill up? The shorter amount of time it takes to fill up, the higher the amps, because more water is flowing out of the spigot. Conversely, the longer amount of time it takes your bathtub to fill, the lower the amps, because less water is flowing out of the spigot. Still with us? The last term, watts, is just a power rating, which is Volts multiplied by Amps (Watts = Volts x Amps). So, if your plumbing has a lot of pressure or force (volts) and a high amount of water coming out of the spigot (Amps), you have a high watt (power) rating.

OK, so after all that techno babble, why does all this matter? In addition to foreign countries using different prong configurations (those outlet pictures from above), there are also various voltage configurations used worldwide. The US and a few other countries operate on a 120V system, while most other countries operate on 220V – 240V electrical systems. For us travelers, we need to know the outlet configurations of our destination, and the voltage used. Again, the website World Standards – Plugs and Sockets is a great resource to determine the voltage of our destination countries.

The good news is, many of our newer electronic devices are equipped to handle the entire spectrum of volts used worldwide (110V – 240V), which makes preparing for international travel a bit easier. These devices are called ‘dual voltage’ devices, meaning they are capable of safely being plugged into any outlet within the specified voltage range.

To check if your device is dual voltage, simply grab the charger. On the adapter part, normally the squarish part that plugs into the wall, there will be a bunch of specifications listed. Find the portion labeled ‘Input’ and here will we find the allowable input voltage range. My adapter, shown in the picture below, is rated for 100 – 240V, so it is capable of safely being plugged into an outlet in any country with voltage within that range. If the device you are concerned with charging is a USB capable device, while you are looking at your adapter, there is another rating for the amps drawn, it’s the numbers listed before the A. Normally within 1A-2A range for many devices. Make note of this number, as it will come in handy in later sections. As mentioned before, but worth repeating, even if your device is within the voltage range of a country you are planning to visit, many devices draw too much electricity (high watt devices) and are not safe to use with outlet adapters. Further, if your device is not dual voltage capable, or is not rated to match the voltage of the country you are visiting, you will also require a voltage converter. Please consult the manufacturer before using any device abroad.


cell phone chargermacbook air charger

zoomed in on phone charger to see voltage specszoomed in on macbook air charger to see voltage specs

2-Prong, 3-Prong, and USB Travel Adapters

After taking inventory of all your devices and their corresponding voltage requirements, we now need to consider the number of prongs which will be required. When we refer to prongs, we mean the metal connector pieces that actually connect into the outlet. Most cell phones, tablets, cameras, and e-readers all have adapters of the 2-prong variety. While many laptops are moving towards using 2 prong connections, there are still many laptops which will require a 3-prong connection. Be sure to check all the devices that you will be taking on your travels, and make note of types of prong configurations you will need.

The other type of common connection besides 2 and 3 prongs, is the USB. Most of our phones, tablets, cameras, and e-readers today can be charged via a 2-prong connection through an adapter, or via a USB connection. By charging through a USB connection, you are removing the adapter from your charging cord, which reveals a USB connection port. This connection port is capable of being plugged into other USB connection ports to charge your device. Noting which of your devices have this capability is important, as many of the travel adapters made today have not only traditional pronged connections, but also USB connections, allowing you to charge multiple devices at once.

2 prong charger example3 prong charger exampleUSB charger example

Picking the Perfect Travel Adapter

Now that we understand the outlet type of our destination country, our devices voltage, the Amp draw if a USB device, and our 2-Prong vs 3-Prong vs USB configurations, we are armed with all the knowledge required to select the perfect travel adapter. To make browsing through the seemingly endless amount of travel adapters out there a bit easier for you, we have narrowed them down into three distinct categories.

Type Specific Adapter

type specific travel adapter exampleThis adapter is made to fit one specific type of socket, and is normally marketed as a country specific solution. Granted, many countries often use the same type of socket, so while this travel adapter is made for just one type of socket, it most likely can be used in numerous countries. To check which countries use which socket type, check out this resource: World Standards – Plugs and Sockets.  It is common to see these single type adapters sold as a bundle. While this helps offer solutions for a wider range of countries, we find it easy to lose the various adapters while traveling. Further, most offer just one single connection, meaning often you can only charge one device at a time. These are a straightforward, simple solution if looking to save space, with few devices, and not traveling to a wide range of countries at the same time.

 All-In-One Adapter

This adapter is considered all-in-one as they are equipped with multiple outlet adapters, all contained within a single unit. Often there are 3 or 4 different outlet adapters, allowing the all-in-one unit to fit into different socket types across multiple countries. The typical all-in-one adapter has the different socket adapters contained within the unit itself, and are exposed when needed, and retracted when not needed through a spring-loaded system. This system allows most all-in-one travel adapters to be used in over 150 countries. We find this feature to be very travel friendly, as it is compact, self-contained, and highly useful across so many countries.

In addition, many all-in-one travel adapters are equipped with a typical pronged connection, as well as USB connections. This allows for the ability to charge multiple devices at one time. With this additional capability, this type of travel adapter is by far our favorite, and most recommended.

all in one outlet adapter exampleall in one adapter socket type configurationall in one travel adapter socket configuration 2


Power Strip Adapter
This style of travel adapter is best used for when multiple pronged charging connections are needed. The power strip will offer multiple connections for pronged devices, and most offer additional USB ports, which allows many devices to be used at the same time. To be adaptable to different countries, different socket types will be attached and removed to the main power cord.  Even though the power strip may be a tad bulky compared to the other types, the ability to charge all your devices at once is a huge benefit.  Further, the power strip type often has a built in voltage converter.  Make sure to double check with the manufacturer.



Few Final Considerations

After deciding on the type of travel adapter that will be best suited for your travels, there are just a few final items to consider before purchasing. Be sure that the no matter the type of adapter you select, you match the 2 vs 3 prong configuration of your chargers. Meaning, if your laptop has a 3-prong charger, you need to ensure that your travel adapter is able to accept 3-prong chargers. This distinction is labeled on most travel adapters, so be sure to check for this prior to purchasing.

If you are interested in utilizing USB ports for charging on your travel adapters, you should be sure to check the amp rating of the adapter. Recall earlier in this guide, when we checked the voltage of our devices, that there was also an amp rating. Your travel adapter will also contain an amp rating for the USB ports, most times it is expressed as an output maximum. Meaning, this is the maximum amps available from the travel adapter for charging at any one time. For instance, if your travel adapter is rated at a maximum output of 1 amp, and there are 2 USB ports for charging, then if both ports are used at the same time, only 0.5 amps will be available to charge each device. Compare this against your USB device amp rating to ensure that this charge will be adequate. If your USB cord is rated to charge at 1 Amp, and there is only 0.5 available from the travel adapter, then the device will charge very slowly.

The final consideration is safety. Most, but not all, travel adapters will contain a fuse, which will protect you and your devices from too much electrical current. We recommend only purchasing a travel adapter that is equipped with a fuse for safety.

That’s it! You are now ready to purchase your travel adapter. We have covered all the steps needed to select an adapter that will keep you plugged in and charged up on your travels. For reference, the steps are again listed below:

  • Step 1: What is a travel adapter, and do I need one?
  • Step 2: What are the socket configurations of the countries I am traveling to?
  • Step 3: What are the voltage ratings of my devices, and what are the voltage ratings of the countries I am traveling to?
  • Step 4: What are the prong configurations of my chargers? 2-Prong, 3-Prong, or USB connections?
  • Step 5: What type of travel adapter is best suited for you?
  • Step 6: Purchase a travel adapter the fits the socket, prong, and voltage configurations based on your devices and destination.

We hope this guide has been a helpful and practical look at the world of travel adapters. We know there were a bunch of added technical details to sort through, which were included to assist in furthering your understanding and aiding in better decision making. Its easy to get lost and overwhelmed with all the different travel adapters available for purchase, and it is our belief that armed with knowledge of the ins and outs you will be able to select the one best suited for your travels. With how connected we are to our devices, it is so important to ensure they stay charged, no matter your destination. The key to staying connected and charged, is selecting the correct travel adapter, which we hope our guide will help you find.

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