International travel forces you to rethink some things that you’ve probably taken for granted your entire life — from getting money out of an ATM to parking your car or even installing an app on your phone. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you try to charge your laptop from a local wall outlet and realize the plug doesn’t fit. 🫠

Picking the right travel adapter is a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way. The wrong type of power plug converter can literally destroy your electronics. And unfortunately, even “universal plug adapters” won’t work in every case. Sometimes you need a weird plug type or a voltage converter. So how do you figure out what to use without starting a fire in your hotel room?

Devices mentioned in the video:

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Do You Need a Voltage Converter, or Just a Plug Adapter?

The most obvious difference between AC power outlets around the world is their shape and size. Any device that changes one of these plug types into another is called an “adapter.”

A device that’s only a power adapter does just one thing: It makes a certain country’s plug fit into a different country’s power outlets. It doesn’t actually change the voltage, current, or frequency of the electricity in any way.

A plug adapter (like this one) is all you need for “dual-voltage” devices, including most phone, tablet, and laptop chargers around the world. You’ll know that your device is dual-voltage (or “voltage-agnostic”) because its power plug label will say something like “Input: 100-240 V, 50-60 Hz” — listing a big range of acceptable voltages and frequencies. If the adapter physically fits the outlet and your dual-voltage device, then you’re good to go!

Many modern adapters also include USB ports, which pretty much always carry standardized, universal voltages. Unless an electrical engineer is purposely trying to prank you, you’re safe to plug just about any USB-powered device into any USB power outlet, anywhere. Again, the plug needs to physically fit though, so it’s handy to carry a multi-pronged USB cable in your travel bag.

Photo collage of voltage labels and USB plugs
These are telltale signs that you can probably stop worrying. Go ahead and plug any of this stuff into any outlet or adapter that fits, anywhere on Earth.

If your device is neither dual-voltage nor USB-powered, be careful. You need to make sure it gets the right voltage, and different countries have different voltage standards. For example, if you’re planning on using American appliances in Europe, there will be a voltage mismatch. European outlets provide 220 V, 50 Hz electricity, while some American devices are designed to accept only 110-120 V, 60 Hz power.

Appliances like curling irons, hair straighteners, electric shavers, CPAP machines, fans, and light bulbs are sometimes sensitive to this voltage difference. Their labels will specify the exact voltages they’re capable of accepting. For example, an American curling iron’s power plug label might read “120 V, 60 Hz.”

This is when a voltage converter (also called a transformer) is needed to solve your problem. For North American devices, a step-down voltage converter is needed to bring 220-240 V electricity down to 110-120 V. We used one of these on our 3-month trip to every state in Australia.

For most European, African, Asian, and Australian devices, a step-up voltage converter is needed to bring 110-120 V electricity up to 220-240 V. And some voltage converters are two-way transformers that can go both directions. We’ve never personally had a need to try these before.

Single Travel Plug Adapters (Smallest & Cheapest Option)

If you’ve landed at the Paris CDG airport (or anywhere in the EU) with a dead laptop battery and no plan, you might drop into a local store and find a generic “European to US plug adapter” that’ll do the trick.

These simple, one-to-one devices are typically the cheapest travel adapter plugs. They’re also easy to find, small, and lightweight. On the other hand, each one only makes one specific conversion, so you’ll have to buy a new adapter every time you go to a new region. If you travel a lot, you’ll wind up with a collection of them in a drawer somewhere.

Photo of a collection of single plug adapters
Region-specific travel adapters can help you in a pinch, but they aren’t as versatile as universal plug adapters. Many of them also lack USB ports and extra safety features like fuses.

For people who actually want a collection of these power adapters, Ceptics makes a very cheap and compact Worldwide Travel Plug Adapter 5-Piece Set. Or, you can search Amazon for the specific one you need, like a UK to US plug adapter.

Universal Plug Adapters (Best Option for Most Devices)

For most people, a universal travel adapter is the best long-term option. These pack multiple plug and socket types into a single device, so you don’t need to buy a new one every time you travel somewhere different.

An example of a great all-in-one device is the Epicka TA-205 International Plug Adapter, which fits Type A (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Japan), Type C (most of Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Iceland, and Greece), Type G (UK, Ireland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore), and Type I (China, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina) AC power plugs and sockets.

Another hallmark of a good universal power adapter is that it should provide both USB-C and USB-A ports, but it’s worth checking their power output. For example, the maximum USB power output of the Epicka TA-205 is 35 W. That’s fine for phones and tablets, but if you want to charge a larger device directly through the USB-C port (without a separate AC charger), you’ll need something like the Epicka TA-105 Max instead, which provides up to 75 W of USB power for laptops and stuff like that.

Photo of the Epicka TA-205 and the Epicka TA-105 Max universal travel adapters
Epicka TA-105 Max and TA-205 Universal Travel Adapters.

One more thing to look out for: Most all-in-one travel adapters can’t cover every country on Earth. For example, the Epicka TA-205 and TA-105 devices can’t accommodate Type D (India) or Type M (South Africa) AC plugs or sockets, among others.

If you want a slightly less convenient device with more versatility, try a universal power adapter with hot-swappable plugs, like the Epicka X232. These types of adapters can be fitted to any plug type in the world, but they require separate adapter heads for each region.

Just remember: A plug converter (like any of the ones mentioned above) isn’t a voltage converter. Only use these travel adapters with dual-voltage devices, or between countries with matching voltages.

AC Voltage Converters (A Necessity for Certain Devices)

The vast majority of modern consumer electronics are dual-voltage, meaning that a simple plug adapter will do the trick for international travel. But if you’re looking for the best travel converter for curling irons, hair straighteners, blow dryers, or any other device with a specific voltage requirement, you may need a voltage converter — also known as a transformer.

Using certain devices from lower-voltage countries (like the US or Canada) in higher-voltage countries (like most of those in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia) requires a step-down voltage converter. If you’re traveling in the reverse direction, you’ll want to pick up a step-up voltage converter instead.

When we took our famously profitable 3-month vacation in Australia, we brought a step-down transformer along with us, and it worked out great. Lauren and I were both able to plug our devices into its 2 AC power outlets and 4 USB ports. The one we used was the ALLWEI SGR-HS260B Power Converter.

Photos of the ALLWEI SGR-HS260B travel adapter and power converter
The ALLWEI SGR-HS260B Step-Down Voltage Converter comes with several plug adapter heads.

With a voltage converter, it’s very important to check the maximum power output of the AC outlets. For example, the ALLWEI device mentioned above can only deliver 230 W total, which may not be enough for certain hair appliances or other items with heating elements or motors, like an electric hot plate or juicer. If you really need more power, heavier-duty devices exist, but they’re more expensive.

As a general rule, pretty much all voltage converters are bigger, more expensive, and noisier (due to cooling fans) than simple plug adapters. You really only want to use one if you own a device that requires it, so just read your labels to find out what you need.

Safe travels!

— Steven

Things change over time. We keep a constantly updated list of our favorite travel electronics on our Recommendations page.

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