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Electronics charging guide for travelers

These days travelers carry a whole assortment of electronics. We have our phones, our cameras, our laptops, our tablets, and more.   Keeping all these electronics topped up can be a challenge.  Add in the complexities of different power standards around the world and charging your gear on the go can be a downright headache.  I decided to do some research and put together this guide on everything you should know about charging your devices. 

Note: Everything in this guide applies to low voltage electronics like laptops and cameras.  High voltage devices are not covered.

Here are my hard and fast rules for your charging setup while travelling.

  1. Don’t worry about a power surge protector or voltage converter if you follow these other rules.

  2. Make sure all your chargers (power supplies) can handle an input range of 110v-220v

  3. Use a name brand charger for non USB chargers

  4. Use a quality smart charger for USB devices

  5. Only buy USB cables rated to 15w+ (100w+ for laptops charging over USB)

  6. Stick with all USB type C cables and get some USB adapters if needed

  7. Get the basic travel adapter plugs

Do you need a surge protector?

These days you don’t need a surge protector when travelling abroad.  If you heard someone recommend bringing a surge protector to protect your gear, that’s not the case anymore.  Most all your devices these days are powered by fairly robust power supplies.  Your phone charger and laptop chargers all have the same features built into them that a surge protector has.

In the event there is a power spike where you are, the surge protector will cut off power to the devices it is connected to.  There is a small chance your power supply dies.  This is rare these days but it could happen.  In this case you can just go buy another power supply.  Even in remote countries this is easy to do.

There are, of course, some exceptions.  I would not buy very cheap chargers like the ones you find at a gas station or bargain market. The rule of thumb is if your device has a modern power supply, you don’t need a surge protector.

Do you need two chargers for 110v and 240v?

You should not need a different charger for 110v outlets and 240v outlets.  To be sure, check the fine print on your charger.  Almost all chargers can handle at least 110v to 240v inputs.  

In the rare case your charger can’t handle 220v, I’d recommend getting another power supply that can handle it rather than buying a voltage converter.  I’ve had nothing but bad luck with voltage converters.  They overheat and can’t maintain multiple devices charging on them.

What to look for in a charger / choosing the right charger.

So maybe you lost your charger, or you want to replace it with one you trust.  Counterfeit or just cheaply made 3rd party chargers can be dangerous.  Here is my rule of thumb which choosing a charger.

For anything not charged with USB like some laptops, you’ll want to stick with the same brand power supply as your device, and you’ll want to look for a reputable dealer.

For USB, there are a few more options, but stay away from the ultra cheap options.  There are trustworthy budget brands out there.  Anker, Aukey, and RavPower are my three go to brands.  Effectively you want something with “Smart charging”  Smart chargers usually have internal safety features.

Choosing the right charging USB cablEs

Did you know even with a smart charger, your cable can cause damage to you or your device?  Cheap charging cables are built with undersized or cheap wires that can overheat or burn out.

Before you go on Amazon and buy the cheapest set of USB cables you can find, make sure to look for cables that can handle higher current.  

Unless the packaging says the cable is rated for at least 3amps or 15W (100W for laptops with USB chargers), do not buy it.  Most modern phones and devices charge at higher currents.  If the cable is too small, your device won’t charge very fast.  

Smartphones and smart chargers have built in features to slow the current down when a cheap cable is detected, but I still come across cheap cables getting very hot even when slow charging.

Most devices are USB type C now.  If you still need micro / mini USB, I recommend getting USB C cables and then a couple type C to micro/mini USB adapters.

What to look for in a plug adapter?

There are a number of “cool” looking travel adapters with multiple country layouts and USB ports.  You might think you’re killing two birds with one stone with these.  I would generally stay away from these devices.  Many do not have the same safety standards as a reputable USB charger.

It’s better to have a set of simple plug adapters like these.

They take up about as much room as a multi-travel adapter when you stack them.

If your device has a ground pin, but the plug for the country your visiting does not, it’s OK. 

The ground pin is a bit excessive in most power supplies.  In all but the most extreme scenario, like taking apart your laptop while it’s still plugged in and your power supply burns up from an extreme voltage spike at the same time, you’ll be fine.  

Just look for an adapter that will fit the ground pin.  These don’t have any safety features either, but they won’t tempt you with otherwise risky features.

You don’t need to get these adapter ahead of time either.  Most airports have special outlets that accept most plug types.  You’ll only need an adapter once you are in town and you can get them cheap cheap in the local tourist markets.

Don’t get a travel adapter with multiple outlets.  If you have multiple devices to charge, get a power strip to plug in after the adapter.

Conclusion

If you are looking for the right gear for your next trip, here’s what you want.  Assuming your laptop and other non USB charging devices can handle the voltage range from various countries, just get a good smart charger from a company like Anker.  Get a small power strip, and some good quality USB cables.  Pick up a simple plug adapter from a market in town when you get to your destination.

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