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The Best Travel Adapter for Going Overseas

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If it’s the one thing you should never leave home without, it’s an adapter. And no offense to the guys over at The Wirecutter, but I’ve blown out a few graveyards’ worth of travel adapters with the hairdryer in my time.

If you’re paying over $10 for a travel adapter, honestly, you’re paying for too much. Don’t forget that adapters are usually finicky things, and you’re bound to lose one or another after moving around like the Energizer Bunny. On occasion, they also like to stop working.

Tight on the purse, the cheapest way to buy a travel adapter is usually to wait until you’re at your destination. A simple, single-plug adapter should cost you no more than $3 or $4, in any country you’re at. But why not just buy a cheap all-in-one travel adapter before you leave? In fact, it’s not hard to buy one that doesn’t cost something ridiculous.

There are three components to travel adapters: the shape of the pin, voltage converters1 and surge protection2. Unless noted, the travel adapters reviewed do not address voltage conversion.

The Targus World Power Travel Adapter

The high and mighty pricey Targus

The high and mighty pricey Targus

As a birthday gift from a friend, this adapter has traveled with me over nearly 100,000 miles on three different continents. Did it pass the hairdryer test? Many, many times. (Most probably because I now use the hairdryer on the low setting, and this thing also has a surge protector.)

It basically does the job, with its three-part design. I’ve used it in Australia, Britain, Asia and heck, even at home. (I do own a few devices with foreign plugs.) Though I’ve never used it in South America and Africa, it’s supposed to have good coverage there too. I believe it.

The snap-on plastic fastener does a good job of keeping all the plugs together and comes in its own carrying case to prevent the 3 different types from separating. Sadly, it is this separability that makes losing one plug that much easier. (Goodbye, euro plug.) It also accepts two types of pins though—just North American and EU—and there have been instances I’ve been forced to use two adapters plugged into one another to get my device working. It’s circular shape works extremely well for fitting into circular European outlets, though; something you won’t get with square-shaped adapters.

On the bright side, the plastic used feels quite solid, so there’s never really a fear of it suddenly breaking down on you. Though it has served me very well, and seems better constructed than other adapters I’ve used in the past, it’s also a bit on the pricier side at $20 on Amazon. But that’s not too much of a problem if you’re willing to head over to eBay to get a substantial price reduction. Still, there are more economical choices out there if you’re looking for the best value.

(Nameless) Universal Travel Adapter Model 931L

And here comes the Chinese upstart...

And here comes the Chinese upstart…

So what can you get for a mere measly $3? A four-star, off-brand universal travel adapter that seems to do the trick at a fraction of the cost.

The all-in-one design has several key benefits for it: you’ll never be short of bringing a pin type, and it accepts all types of prongs except for Australia’s V-shaped plug. It’s a pretty universal design, and I think everyone would do well using it – that is, except for Australians.

Correction: It actually accepts all prongs included the Australian pin. My bad.

To basically use the American or British plug, slide the green switches on either side to the unlock position. You’ll also want to lock it once you’ve got it on, to keep the pins in place. The only downside is that you have to unlock, manually shove it back into place, and lock it once you’re done using it.

It’s fair width and height compared to the Targus adapter is one of its drawbacks, making it possibly hard to plug in tight sockets. The Targus one, in my opinion, is best used if you’ve got to finagle some small spaces, like circular sockets that are frequently found in Europe. The plastic, while not as solid as the Targus, still seems pretty sturdy despite its low price offering.

Though the adapter doesn’t convert voltage, there seems to be an in-built surge protector as an added bonus. Ok, given that it was made in China, I’d be skeptical of this claim, but if it does even indeed work, you’re getting even more bang for the buck. I’ll let you guys take that for what it’s worth, since I don’t plan on frying my laptop anytime soon.

However, it’s possibly the best value for your buck since you can snag it for even less than $3 off eBay, not like you really need to. It even comes with a small cloth carrying case. Imagine that.

Both products, though, fail in providing a USB charging port which is available in some off-brand and branded models. You’ll, however, pay a premium for such an outlet, and in the past models that I have tested that offered such a feature, charging has always been very subpar.

To be rather practical, though, in the end, I’d probably bring both. Though I’d give the edge to the nameless off-brand in terms of sheer value and versatility, there are upsides to the Targus adapter. After all, who knows when I’ll lose the next adapter.

Gear Review Policies

  1. You don’t really need a voltage converter unless you are planning to bring a hairdryer or other high-powered household appliance. Most, if not all, modern computer and phones have chargers that can handle both 110 and 220 volts at 50 or 60 Hz. Tell me you’re not bringing a travel iron!
  2. To be honest, after almost 200,000 miles on the road, there has never been once where I’ve wildly thought about protecting my gadgets from a freak storm. Maybe that’s bad.

  • jillianandjeff doran

    Erica! Why isn’t anyone doing a review on the Road Warrior travel adapter? Just curious! It is so small compared to anything that people are writing about, including the Targus (for which I lost one of the darned pieces when I owned it!!!). I just don’t get it. I have traveled to over 60 countries with mine and it is not only universal (meaning both the male and female parts take all plug types, so you can be from any country and use it in any other foreign country!). They used to be only available in Asia (where I got mine) but they are now online (www.rwarrior.com).

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      I lost the Euro plug too, but I’m very fond of the generic Chinese adapter now. I haven’t checked out the Road Warrior, but it looks too expensive for an adapter and hard to get. I wouldn’t have used my Targus one had someone not paid for it. I guess if you’re trying to save half an inch of space, it may be worth that extra $15.

      (Look at that thing twist, though; way too complicated for me!)

  • legostein

    The first adapter set isn’t that bad.

    But the second one is an unsafe adapter, which can cause an electric shock.

    A pity it is brand free, but I almost know why. They avoid being listet on the RAPEX list:

    I would always go with a Skross adapter…imho the best you can buy.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Legostein, where’s your source on this? Skross adapters are a bit expensive and just not good value in my opinion, but to each his own.

      • Antonio.biill

        SKROSS are not expensive if you consider killing yourself with cheap ones. There are already several incidents of such situations. So really, do you want to buy cheap ones…

  • DavidTeo

    Hi Erica, the chinese adaptor was my 1st ever, it supports every location including Australia (if i understood your article, you mentioned it cannot work in Australia?), u can just turn the 2 pins to the “AUST” position, it is just missing the 3rd pin for stability when plugging into a wall socket.
    I agree its seems and feels unsafe to use, but it has travelled with me for years now, haven’t failed and nor shocked yet. Woe to tights spots and flat pinned wall sockets. Too bad no newer version with USB input.

    I saw the road warrior while in NYC Container Store, pretty dimensions, size and weight. A word of caution for using the BF (1 rectangular 2 round) on actual BF sockets (3 rectangular). When unplugging, be cautious, as uncontrolled (angled) removal may break your round pins. This the only part i didn’t like about the RW and decided not to get one. =p

    • DavidTeo

      oh sorry, my bad, u meant australia plug input, not output.

      • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

        Actually, it’s my bad. Out of curiosity, I circled around again and tried it with an Australian input. It accepts ALL inputs.

        I’ve actually never been a fan of the Road Warrior — almost seems way too complicated to use….

  • http://sector0.net/ Ted

    The Targus adapter seems cumbersome with all the removable parts that can get lost. I prefer the all in one design of the nameless adapter.

    For the nameless adapter, when I click the Amazon link, it shows a manufacturer name, eForCity. I have had decent luck with other items eForCity makes, so I bought two of these for my upcoming Europe trip. The Amazon link points to a seller who ships from China and provided a long ship time estimate. Amazon’s product page lists other sellers offering this product. I went with a high rated in-country seller and received my adapters within a week.

    Be careful with adapters with built in USB sockets. Different USBs deliver different amperage, which might be insufficient for many higher power devices like tablets or some large screen smartphones. I think USB is only spec’ed for 500 mA. Laptop USB sockets are low current too. Smartphones usually need at least a full amp. The included charger with my smartphone outputs 1.8 A. This is printed on the label. If the charger is too weak, it will take a long time to recharge your device, plus will prevent you from using the device while plugged in. Using the device while plugged into too weak a charger will actually deplete the battery faster than it can charge! Also notice your smartphone and tablet tends to take much longer when charging from your laptop.

    Most (all?) modern smartphones and tablets have current protection, so you can use a charger that delivers more amperage than your stock charger does. The charger amperage only specifies the max deliverable current. The smartphone will only draw as much as it needs. So, I also bring a 2.4 A USB charger. When I need to rent a car in my destination city, I also carry a 2 port USB 2.4 A car charger to keep my phone charged when I’m using navigation. The extra port I use to charge my backup battery. Screen and GPS will eat your battery if the charger is too weak.

    Beware when choosing a USB charger. Some give the amperage as total (divided among all the ports). So, a 2.4 A 2 port charger might only deliver 1.2 A per port. I’ve seen some divide the current differently, having a 1 A and a 2 A port (marketed as “tablet” compatible on the 2 A port). Ensure the charger you buy delivers the desired current on each port. Don’t assume more current is better, if the charger lists “total” amperage instead of per-port.

    Another useful tip when shopping for USB chargers: some makers rate the output in Watts instead of Amps. USB nominal is 5 W, so divide by 5 to get Amps. A 12 Watt output USB charger delivers 2.4 Amps. If there are multiple ports and the package doesn’t say how much each port delivers, choose a different charger.

  • DiscretePete

    About 10 years ago I bought an adapter on a Cathay Pacific flight for about $20 – it looks very similar to the Targus model except it’s Cathay green. By far and away the best purchase I have ever made on an airplane. I have used it all over the world and it has never failed me. I haven’t flown on CX for a while (I live in Geneva and thay don’t fly here) but next time I do hopefully I can buy a backup.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Chances are it’s the same, just different branding! I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • http://sector0.net/ Ted

    I combined the unnamed adapter with a multivoltage power strip. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003UHYDYO/maphap0d-20

    The Simran strip has a 3 prong US plug, which plugs into the adapter then fits in most foreign wall outlets. The strip has room for 3 foreign plugs, which I initially thought didn’t matter since all my devices have US pins, but found it indispensable when staying somewhere with a lamp plugged into the sole outlet. Plug the lamp into the strip, plug the strip into the adapter then the wall, and now I have extra outlets.

    Previously, I used a 120 V power strip plugged into a voltage converter, but the strip was unhappy and kept tripping the breaker.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Better than buying three converters! Great idea, Ted 😉

  • Vinni

    Yes this is very good one because when i was in Europ i faced lot of problem with adapters ..thanks for posting this article


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  • Michael

    Was going to buy the Targus adapter until I saw this awesome “flag pattern” universal adapter from TravelMore. Also the ones you reviewed don’t have any USB ports (I don’t think) which can be really useful. http://shoptravelmore.com/collections/travel-essentials/products/universal-travel-power-adapter-dual-usb.

    • http://sector0.net/ Ted

      The specs on this adapter say the usb output is 1A. Be aware this is insufficient for tablets and newer smartphones. Even an older phone like the Samsung Galaxy S3 comes with a 2A charger.

      The 1A usb ports in the adapter will charge your phone really slowly.

      • Michael

        Hmm don’t know what 1A and 2A means exactly but in my experience, I can charge my iPad Air and iPhone 6 without issue in the same amount of time as if I plugged it into the wall.

        • http://sector0.net/ Ted

          A is amperage, the max current the charger outputs. More current means faster charging. Modern smartphones and tablets also have overcurrent protection so there’s no concern about pushing too many amps. The device will only draw as much current as it can handle, up to the charger rated max, and will even reduce its current draw as it nears a full charge.

          The Galaxy S3 stock charger is 2A. The LG G3 stock charger is 1.8A. I do notice a difference in charge times when I use a 1A charger. Laptop and desktop usb sockets only output 0.5A and take a really long time to charge. I travel with a 2.4A wall and car charger. Both devices charge real fast.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      The travel adapters that have USB ports are often expensive and do little to justify the cost. Devices also require very different charging speeds depending on it is.

      • Michael

        I find it useful because it allow me to charge multiple devices like my iPhone, iPad, and laptop with one outlet. Worth the extra few dollars in my opinion.

        • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

          It is useful but only if the USB port is configured correctly for the proper charging speed.

    • Michael Klump

      Wow very cool! Love the flag design. I just bought one from Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Z7H15K0

    • Michael Klump

      Very cool. Has a very unique look. Just bought it from Amazon and can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for sharing! http://www.amazon.com/TravelMore-International-Worldwide-Universal-Adapter/dp/B00Z7H15K0/ref=sr_1_34?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1435032175&sr=1-34&keywords=travel+charger

  • unknown

    HAHA. I laughed when I saw that Chinese knock off. I spent like $50 on a skross universal adapter. Great product. Then at the last minute I said, what if it fails? So I bought that $3 knockoff. Three years later it still works. We use both when we travel. I have had a review on this on Amazon. I swear by it. Wish I would never have spent the $50 on the skross one.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Sometimes you don’t need to go fancy 😉

  • Jekelen

    An Scross multi adapter and a power strip is all you need. Don’t go cheap when it comes to high voltage or you’ll fry your precious electronics.

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