Written by 21:54 Gear Reviews

Power Adapters

Whether we travel in or out of the country, we always make sure to take along our power adapters.  With everything that needs to be charged today, laptops, iPods, camera batteries, video batteries, etc., you require an adapter that can handle it.  At the same time, the last thing you want to do is lug along some huge powerstrip or heavy adapter with 75 different plug combinations.

Plug Adapters vs Voltage Regulators

Before we delve into our favorites, there’s always a lot of confusion over “adapters” vs “regulators”.  So, let’s try to clear up some misconceptions.

Plug adapters are exactly that.  The ability to accept a plug of some type and then via the adapter plug it into a different type of socket.  They don’t change the power, they simply allow you to plug your device into a different style of plug.  The US runs on 110-120V, while most other countries run on 220v-240v.  So, if you plug in an ordinary device that you use in North America into a European socket, you’ll probably end up with a permanently damaged device.   Not fun, not pretty and very expensive to replace.

If the item you’re bringing from North America has a power supply, (think laptop, camera battery charger, etc) and it’s relatively new, (say the last 5 years) you may be able to use just the plug adapter.  You should read the label on the power supply of the device you want to plug in and see what the voltage requirements are.  If it has a range, that says 100v – 240v, you’ll probably be fine with just an adapter, like the Kensington below.  If it has just a single number on the label such as 120v, you’ll definitely need a plug adapter AND a voltage regulator.

The one thing you should NEVER do, is plug in a hair dryer you bring from North America, into an outlet somewhere else in the world.  Hair Dryers take a HUGE amount of power and can easily be damaged, catch fire or worse.  You should always use the hair dryer supplied by your hotel.  There are certain travel hair dryers (their clearly designated as such) which may work in a foreign country.  Some come with an adapter you can use.

Voltage Regulators can actually adjust or “step up” or “step down” the power source to charge your device.  They actually change the voltage that your device receives from the outlet.  These usually tend to run rather “warm” when you are using them.  Sometimes, they can also have a very faint hum as they change the voltage.  Usually, but not always, if you need a voltage regulator, you’ll still need a power adapter.  The power adapter will allow you to plug in the device and the voltage regulator will adjust the power.  Voltage regulators tend to be more expensive than just a plug adapter.

When in doubt, you should always read your owner’s manual for the device to see what they recommend or call the manufacturer of your device and see what they say.  We haven’t used a voltage regulator for about 4 years.  We use a plug adapter only when we travel to foreign destinations to charge our Canon video and camera batteries, Ni-Mh batteries, iPod, iPhones and Apple laptops.  We haven’t had any issues and its certainly been nice not to carry any extra equipment.

We’ve tried alot of different adapters over the years and we’ve used these for the past three.  Frankly, we haven’t found anything that works better, nor any that are more compact for the number of outlets offered.

Belkin Adapter

Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger

The Belkin Mini Surge Protector works great whether your traveling domestically or internationally.  First, you never know how many outlets you’re going to have where you’re staying.  There’s almost always a shortage of outlets in any hotel room when you’re in international destinations.  Second, how many adapters have more than one 3 prong-outlet and with them positioned on their side so you can easily plug in larger plugs?  The best thing about this adapter is that it also has two USB ports on top, that allow us to charge our iPhones and iPods without having to get out our laptop.  The one downside of this power adapter is that it’s not small.

Kensington AdapterKensington 33117 International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter

Who ever thought a plug adapter could be controversial?  Well, if you read some of the reviews about the Kensington All-in-One, you may believe that it’s not the right one for you.  Let’s dispel some of the rumors you may hear in reviews on the adapter….(and no, we don’t have any relationship with Kensington).

This adapter does work with 3 prong devices.  It does NOT provide grounding, even though the 3 prong plug works in the adapter.  We’ve used this adapter in Dubai, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Maldives, Thailand and have never had any problems with it working.  The one thing we like about this adapter is that it’s small and light.  It also works with just about any combination of foreign outlet you’ll come in contact with.

The only two downsides of this adapter is that it doesn’t bear alot of weight, so can come out of loose outlets easily.  This isn’t a problem in Europe, but is somewhat in Asia, where the outlets tend to be loose.  The other is that you have to make sure you push a button on the side before sliding out the prongs you need to fit the foreign outlet.

We use this adapter in conjunction with the Belkin Mini Surge Protector and the Monster Outlets-to-Go powerstrip described below.

Monster Outlets-to-Go

Monster MP OTG400 BK Outlets To Go Power Strip

The Monster Outlets to Go is one of our favorite power accessories.  If we’re taking our laptop on a trip, we’ll utilize it for the USB charging capability and take this instead of the Belkin Mini Surge Protector mentioned above.  It’s much more compact and easier to pack.  Plus it has one additional outlet and they’re spaced further apart for bulky charging devices.  Monster will soon be coming out with a similar model, with a USB charging port, but one less outlet.  When that happens, we’ll probably stop taking our Belkin along. If space and weight are big limitations, we highly recommend this for any type of travel.  At less than an inch thick, you can’t go wrong.

Last modified: January 9, 2014