Is there any tech gadget less interesting than a travel adapter? In a world of sleek smartphones and slimline laptops, chunky adapters are about as unexciting as it gets.
Unfortunately, without those ugly adapters, all the sexy tech gear in the world becomes pretty useless when you can’t charge it overseas.
Coming in a ridiculous range of sizes, styles, and weights, with all kinds of different features, it’s not at all easy to separate the good from the garbage. We’ve been using travel adapters for decades, though, and based on that experience, have come up with seven of the very best travel adapter options worth buying in 2021.
Best Universal Adapter: Unidapt Travel Adapter
There are about a million different kinds of universal travel adapters out there, and most of them are terrible. They’re often too heavy, don’t fit properly, are unreliable, or have other flaws that mean you’ll end up shopping for a replacement halfway through your vacation.
This Unidapt model does all the basics well at a reasonable price, and throws in a few extra features to sweeten the deal. It works in 160+ countries, with a handy compatibility list printed in the fold-up manual. There’s also an attractive carry case that provides extra protection from bumps and scratches in transit.
The adapter handles all of the usual input plugs as well, including three-pin versions like type B (North America) and type I (Australasia). That third pin isn’t grounded, however.
Where it really stands out, though, is the wide range of USB options. As more and more travel devices are charged from USB sockets, it makes sense for travel adapters to include plenty of them. This model has four USB-A sockets on one end, and a USB-C socket on the side.
Total USB output is 5.6 amps, with a maximum per-port output of 2.4 amps for the USB-A sockets and 3 amps for the USB-C. Depending on your devices, that’s enough to charge a couple of phones or tablets at full speed, or to use all five for lower-power gadgets like Kindles and headphones.
There’s an inbuilt fuse to protect your valuable gear, and usefully, a spare fuse stored inside the adapter (because who travels with extra fuses in their bag? Nobody, that’s who.)
I’ve put mine through its paces during several months of travel, using a wide range of devices. It’s performed flawlessly, even while simultaneously charging a laptop from the AC socket, a phone from the USB-C socket, and a second phone and a pair of Bluetooth headphones from two of the USB-A sockets.
The pins slide in and out easily, and lock solidly into place when fully extended. The adapter has fitted firmly into every power socket I’ve tried it in so far, without moving around or falling out like so many others.
While it’d be nice if it was a little smaller, since it can sometimes block adjoining sockets or rub against power switches, having so many inbuilt charging options makes that a minor concern.
All in all, it’s a useful and well-made accessory, with extras you rarely find in other models. As a result, it’s our top universal travel adapter pick.
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Best Lightweight Option: Flight 001 4-In-1
If you’re traveling carry-on only and want something small, light, and reliable, take a look at this Flight 001 model.
It’s a universal adapter, but rather than being a chunky brick, it’s made up of four lightweight color-coded pieces that slot neatly together and don’t block adjoining sockets.
While it’s towards the higher end of the travel adapter price range, that cost is reflected in the sturdy build quality. The Flight 001 doesn’t fall out of loose sockets like many other models, and even after several years of bouncing around the world in my luggage, all the pieces of my one work as well as ever.
Unlike some adapters, it can handle both two and three-pin North American plugs, and comes in a small box that helpfully lists which countries each piece works in. There are no USB sockets, though, so if that’s something you’re after, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
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Best for Going Anywhere: Ceptics GP-12PK Plug Set
So-called “universal” travel adapters typically cover you in the ~150 countries that use North American, UK, European, or Australasian-style sockets.
That’s fine if you’re going to those destinations. When your travels take you to places like South Africa, India, Brazil, and other countries with unusual power sockets, however, you’re out of luck.
Sure, you can pick up a separate adapter just for that trip, but if you’d rather not deal with that hassle, go for this Ceptics kit instead.
It lets you plug your existing devices into almost any socket you can find, and also handles inputs from pretty much anywhere except South Africa as well. If you buy electronics in a random destination, you’ll be able to use them wherever else you go in the world.
The downside is having up to 12 separate adapters in your suitcase. That’s especially true because they don’t come with a storage bag to keep them together. For that reason, the kit is best for people who return home between trips, rather than those on open-ended travels.
Other than that, it’s a flexible, inexpensive way of ensuring you’ll be able to power your gear, no matter where your journey takes you.
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Best for USB Devices: iKits 4-Port USB Wall Charger
If your charging needs tend more towards phones and tablets than laptops and hair dryers, you’re best to buy a slightly different type of travel adapter. This iKits model has four standard USB-A ports that can output up to 2.4 amps from a single socket, or 6.8 amps (34W) in total.
In real-world terms, that means you’ll be able to simultaneously charge a pair of smartphones or tablets, or up to four lower-power gadgets like Kindles or wireless headphones, all from the one adapter.
The adapter has a North American-style plug built in. Three other connectors quickly clip on and off to provide compatibility with sockets in most countries. There’s also a small bag to keep them in, always useful for little accessories like this that are easily lost.
I’ve been using a very similar model for several years, and it’s probably the most useful travel accessory I own.
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Best for Voltage Conversion: BESTEK 220V to 110V Converter/Adapter
As mentioned earlier, if you’re heading to a country with a different mains power voltage to your home country, you need to carefully check the specifications of whatever you plan to plug into it. If it can’t handle the new voltage on its own, you’ll need a voltage converter to avoid damaging it.
This BESTEK model converts the 220-240v standard commonly used in Europe, Asia, and Oceania to the 110v supply used in North America and a few other places. It’s not designed for high-draw devices like hairdryers and straighteners, but smaller gadgets like electric toothbrushes should be fine.
By necessity, it’s much larger than a standard travel adapter. On the upside, that means it includes three North American three-pin power sockets, plus four USB sockets with 6.8 amps total output.
If that doesn’t cover all your power requirements, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re packing! It includes clip-on plugs for use in 150+ countries, and comes with a two-year warranty.
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Best Budget Option: Insten Universal Travel Adapter
When you’re on a strict budget and just want a travel adapter that does the job with a minimum of fuss, this Insten model is where it’s at.
Sold under a variety of names, it’s a generic gadget that does little beyond converting one plug type into another. There’s basic protection that may or may not do anything to stop your equipment being fried by power surges, and that’s about it.
So why do I recommend it? Because it’s reliable, and for under ten bucks, that’s about all I ask. I picked one up in Thailand years ago and used it every day for a couple of years. It eventually stopped working, so I bought another one exactly the same, and still use it to this day.
One thing to note, though, is that it fits relatively loosely into European/Asian sockets. Heavy plugs can easily drag it out of the wall entirely. As a result, I’ve sometimes needed to prop it up with a backpack or whatever I have to hand.
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Best All-in-One Option: Ceptics World Travel Adapter Set
Do you like the sound of the Ceptics 12-piece plug set (above) that lets you only take the plug adapters you need for your trip, but also need to charge a bunch of devices at once? The company’s World Travel Adapter Plug Set lets you do exactly that.
This all-in-one set comes with a multi-outlet adapter that includes two type B (North American-style) outlets, two USB-A sockets, and an inbuilt micro-USB cable. In total, you can power up to five devices at once.
Thirteen different plugs are also included, which clip on and off the back of the adapter and cover travel in most countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, for example, you’d grab the charger and Type I plug and be on your way. The product page has a full breakdown of the countries covered by each plug.
The adapter has built-in surge protection to help helps shield against voltage surges and spikes. There’s also a voltage indicator on the charger, so you’ll see the 220v or 110v light illuminate when the adapter is plugged into the wall.
The kit also comes with a drawstring bag, fitting several (but not all) of the adapters inside to help keep them together. The only downside is that while the “plug” side of the adapter is universal, the “socket” side isn’t, so your mains-powered devices need to have type A/B plugs.
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Main image via MIKI Yoshihito (CC BY 2.0), all other images via Amazon