Having your devices run out of power is one of the most frustrating things that can happen when you’re traveling. But keeping your phone and computer charged while you’re on the road is harder than ever these days.
At least, that’s how travelers such as Sharon Terera see it. Electric Switch
“It’s being cut off from the rest of the universe unexpectedly — and for hours at a time,” says Terera, a human resources manager and frequent traveler from Limpopo, South Africa. “After that, you quickly learn how to navigate the blackouts and circumvent the lack of power.”
Terera never goes anywhere without two extra power banks, just in case she loses access to electricity. And if you think that’s extreme, you should talk to other travelers. Between power outages, strange plugs and batteries that seem to register “low” all the time, travelers are constantly looking for their next charge.
I confidently packed my “universal” power adapter on a recent trip abroad, thinking it would work everywhere. But I happened to be in South Africa, which uses a three-pronged Type M outlet. (It’s one of four outlet types found in the country.) I had to rush to the nearest drugstore to find an adapter, almost running out of battery on my cellphone.
That wasn’t my only problem. Halfway through my visit, the power went out for several hours one morning. And again in the afternoon. It turns out that my neighborhood was having a rolling blackout as the summer heat stressed out South Africa’s power grid.
Having the power go out is a common problem in the United States, too. Between 2000 and 2021, according to an analysis by Climate Central, about 83 percent of reported major outages in the United States were attributed to weather-related events. In fact, this country has one of the highest incidences of power outages in the developed world.
So how can you find the right power adapters? And how can you avoid outages, such as rolling blackouts? As Americans start to travel again after a peak-pandemic break, they’re finding unexpected answers.
Too often, plugs are an afterthought, even for experienced travelers. That’s a mistake. There are more than a dozen commonly used electrical outlets in the world. Even if your adapter fits the socket, there are different plug configurations that may or may not support your adapter. And even if it does, there’s no guarantee that it will allow you to plug in your adapter without it falling out of the wall. (For example, I recently used a nightstand to wedge my Apple adapter into a universal adapter.)
Alison Watta, a frequent traveler who publishes Exploration Solo, a blog for solo travelers, knows what that’s like. If her adapters don’t work, she heads to the closest electronics store. Watta recommends taking your U.S. plug with you, particularly if you’re in a non-English-speaking country.
“Most people working in an electronic store will be able to help you find the right adapter, but having the cord helps if there’s a language barrier,” she says.
For frequent travelers, a universal power adapter is worth considering. The latest adapters are impressively versatile. The OneWorld ($49.99), for instance, fits most of the major plug types and has a USB-C port, plus three additional USB-A ports. It also complies with the new BS8546 safety standard, making it less likely to damage your devices when there’s a surge.
One of my favorite power plug strategies comes from Tom Harriman, a lawyer from Clarksville, Md. When he can’t find the right adapter, he asks his hotel concierge to borrow one from the lost and found. “They’ll usually lend you one — or give you one,” he says.
Experienced travelers often travel with portable batteries called power banks to supplement the batteries on their phones and computers.
“It’s particularly helpful when you’re using GPS navigation or other apps that drain power when you’re not on a network,” says Ron Scharman, chief executive of FlyWithWine, a specialty luggage manufacturing company. “By midday, you can be out of power if you don’t have a backup.”
The newest power banks are compact and fast. The Satechi Quatro wireless power bank ($99.99) looks like a phone and supplies power-hungry travelers with 10,000 milliampere hours (mAh) worth of power. (That’s enough to charge the average smartphone about 1.5 times, give or take.) It features a wireless charger, a built-in Apple Watch charger, USB-C power delivery and a USB-A port, which allow you to recharge multiple devices at once. If you want something smaller, try AquaVault’s ChargeCard ($60), a credit-card-size battery with fast charging technology and 2,300 mAh of power.
Power banks won’t fix everything. When the power went out in Cape Town, South Africa, during the rolling blackouts, a power bank only gave me one or two extra hours of work time. It didn’t bring back the WiFi, which meant I had to use valuable cellphone data.
But it’s better to have a power bank than not, and it’s definitely worth the extra bulk. A cellphone charger can mean being able to make a necessary purchase with a contactless tap-to-pay system or reach a loved one in an emergency.
Look for hotels that have committed to ensuring you have ample power during your stay. For example, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts has revamped some of its hotels to include built-in wireless chargers and outlets in rooms and community areas. The most forward-looking hotels have charging stations on nightstands and desks, so you never have to get on your hands and knees to look for the nearest outlet.
You can also buy smart luggage with chargers. Ateet Ahuja, a travel agent who specializes in destination weddings, likes Away luggage, because some of its models have chargers built into them. “It’s a popular brand with professionals in the travel industry for good reason,” he says.
Lastly, monitor your electronics. “I always keep my devices charged,” says Michal Jonca, community manager for PhotoAiD, a passport photo website. Doing so is especially important for digital nomads such as Jonca, whose livelihood is reliant on connectivity.
He has the right idea. When you have an opportunity to charge your devices, take it. Always.
British Sockets Potential travelers should take local and national public health directives regarding the pandemic into consideration before planning any trips. Travel health notice information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and the CDC’s travel health notice webpage.