UPDATE: Jul. 27, 2023, 5:00 a.m. EDT This shopping guide has been updated with additional products, expert recommendations, and new information on traveling abroad with electronics.
If you’re planning an international trip, then you’re going to have a long to-do list. Finding the best travel adapter for your destination should be right at the top, unless you want to try and navigate Japan or Scotland without your smartphone. (Also high on that list? Investing in some smart luggage, snagging a quality travel pillow, and finding the right thing to binge-watch on your flight.)
When you travel to another country, you’ll soon realize that just about everything is different from your home. That’s one of the main reasons international travel is so exciting. From the food to the language, nearly everything overseas can be unfamiliar — especially the power outlets.
The world is separated into different regions for power outlet shapes, types, and voltage. Because traveling without your devices is non-optional, you’ll need to plan ahead and pack the right travel adapters before traveling internationally. The best travel adapters can also save your devices and appliances from getting fried in a foreign land.
To help you find the best travel adapters for every possible itinerary, we spoke to globetrotting travel experts. Many of the experts we spoke to are photographers and videographers who need to keep an array of electronics powered up at all times, and with their insight, you can make sure you always have the right adapter on hand.
Here are the best adapters for international travel, according to seasoned world travelers.
What does a travel adapter do?
At home, you can simply plug in your devices to a wall outlet without worrying, but that won’t always be the case when traveling abroad. In foreign countries, you may find that your plugs don’t fit into the wall outlets. These countries may also use a different voltage than we use here in the United States (more on this below).
A travel adapter is a small plug that acts as a go-between for your plug and the wall outlet. The best travel adapters may be able to accommodate multiple types of plugs, and universal travel adapters can help you plug into just about any outlet, anywhere.
Know which “type” of plugs you need before you jet
Currently, there are over a dozen types of electrical plugs used around the world. Some countries use multiple types, including the United States. American outlets are made for Type A two-prong outlets and/or Type B three-prong grounded oulets. Many European countries use Type C outlets, but not all of them do, and some use multiple types.
All of the experts we spoke to recommended doing your research ahead of time. A quick search online should tell you exactly what type of plugs you’ll need.
“I ran into a problem on a recent trip to Switzerland,” says luxury travel blogger Jessie Moore, of Pocket Wanderings. “Despite being in a European country, I found that the standard ‘European’ travel adapters didn’t fit a lot of the Swiss plugs. Switzerland has both Type C (the usual ‘European’ travel adapter with two round pins) and Type J (three round pins) outlets — but I guess where I stayed preferred Type J.
“Luckily, I had to hand my universal travel adapter, which worked with some of the power outlets. It’s important to note that even some ‘universal’ travel adapters don’t work for Swiss plugs — so research, caution and a backup is required!”
What happens if you don’t use a voltage converter?
When selecting travel adapters, it helps to have a basic understanding of voltage and voltage converters. Devices made for the United States run on a type of power called alternating current (that’s why we call them AC outlets) with a voltage between 110-130. However, most foreign countries run on a 220V system, and the Type C plugs used throughout Europe are typically 220V. If you plug into the wrong outlet, even with a travel adapter, you could short circuit your device.
The good news is that most phone and laptop chargers are already designed to convert voltage automatically. The bad news is that other common travel appliances, specifically breast pumps and hair dryers, are not. Thus, the need for a voltage converter. Some of the best travel adapters will do double duty as a voltage converter, but not all of them will.
What is dual voltage?
A dual voltage charger can handle both 110V and 220V currents, converting the current as needed for your devices. For instance, Apple makes its American chargers dual voltage (also referred to as voltage adaptive), as do many other manufacturers. Check to see if your device’s charger is made for 110V or 220V, and when in doubt, use a voltage converter when plugging in.
What happens if you don’t use a voltage converter?
We asked our travel experts about this, and this is a lesson you don’t want to learn the hard way. Not only can you destroy your device, but you can give yourself a shock or damage the electrical system of your entire hotel. Don’t be that American tourist.
Lakshmi Natarajan is an Indian-American entrepreneur and travel blogger who documents her journeys at Travel Plus Them. She’s visited 33 countries across six continents with her young daughters. Traveling as a parent can pose additional challenges, as it multiplies the number of devices you’ll need to power up.
“This is a scary but funny experience [from] when I had my first daughter eight years ago. She was with me on a trip to Jamaica at four months old, and I was pumping breast milk as well. As a frequent global traveler for decades, this was not even my first trip with my newborn daughter internationally, as we went to the British Virgin Islands when she was 6 weeks old. But, it was my first time using a breast pump outside of the U.S. While this particular hotel did have the U.S. power outlets, I forgot about the voltage component… Well, the pump was working for the first few seconds but within the first 30 seconds, while it was on my breast pumping milk, the machine died and caused an electric shock to my breasts! While the pump was expensive, the bigger issue was the pain from the electrocution.”
Should I use a universal travel adapter?
Universal travel adapters feature an all-in-one design, with all of the possible plugs you could need in a single device. They’re the closest you can get to a one-size-fits-all solution. They may also have a built-in voltage converter, but don’t assume that they do. These devices are typically cube-shaped, and they’re compact and convenient. Not only do the best universal travel adapters let you visit 150-200 countries with a single adapter, but they should also have plenty of USB-C and USB-a ports so you can charge multiple devices at once. However, there are some downsides.
Travel adapter plug sets come with up to 15 different types of plug adapters, which you can carry in a travel bag. You simply select the plug that’s required for your destination, and pop it onto your plug. This allows you to travel light.
Gwen Corrie is an international solo traveler who’s spent 27 years abroad and has written extensively about traveling to Croatia. She tells Mashable that she was strongly warned against using a universal travel adapter.
“When I was last in Split, Croatia in 2021 and [being] given a tour of my boutique hotel room by the manager, I reached in my bag to get my adapter to charge my phone. The hotel manager tried to stop me before plugging in; however, when he saw the type of adapter I had, he literally breathed a sigh of relief. I was confused. He explained that a previous guest used one of those adapters made for multiple countries and it caused a short and hotel power outage.”
Corrie also points out that if your unviersal power adapter stops working, you’ll be unable to charge anything. In this way, travel plug adapters can be simpler and more reliable.
What are the best travel adapters?
Mashable received insight from dozens of travel experts for this piece, including recommendations for specific travel adapters that have proven reliable across years of travel. We’re confident you’ll find the best travel adapter for your trip on this page, but always do your research to make sure the adapter you’ve selected is the right fit for your destinations.