Jul 20, 2023
The 4 best travel adapters of 2023
A travel adapter is crucial for international travel — without it, you won’t be able to charge most of your electronics. Put simply, travel adapters let you plug your electronics into wall sockets in
A travel adapter is crucial for international travel — without it, you won’t be able to charge most of your electronics. Put simply, travel adapters let you plug your electronics into wall sockets in other countries, says Carl Prouty, a product specialist with over 20 years of sales experience at Abt, an electronics and appliance retailer. (Since Abt sells travel adapters, we only spoke with Prouty about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask for specific product recommendations.)
Travel adapters come in small individual plugs or a single universal adapter, which have multiple plugs built-in. We consulted electronics experts to better understand how they work, and based our recommendations on expert advice, highlighting Select staff favorites as well as top-rated options on the market.
SKIP AHEAD Select staff favorite travel adapters | What is a travel adapter? | What is voltage? | What is a travel voltage converter? | How to shop for travel adapters
We spoke with electronics experts and asked Select staffers for their favorite travel adapters. We selected products that met the following criteria:
We rounded up the following highly rated travel adapters, universal adapters and voltage converters based on expert advice and Select staff picks that are in line with that advice.
I have used this universal travel adapter for over a year to charge small electronics like phones, earbuds, fitness trackers and tablets in the U.S., U.K., France and Italy. This adapter has both USB-A and USB-C ports, so I can charge multiple devices at the same time. Even though this is a travel adapter, I sometimes use it at home in the U.S. when I need to charge my smartphone, earbuds and smartwatch at the same time.
Compatible regions: EU, U.K., U.S., AUS | Ports: 3-prong power plug, USB-A (4), USB-C (1) | Voltage range: N/A, does not convert voltage | Dimensions: 2.8 x 1.97 x 2.05 in.
CNBC Select associate reporter Andreina Rodriguez uses this adapter when she travels to Italy, France, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. She mostly used it to charge her smartphone or laptop — it charges each one just as quickly as chargers in the U.S. do. Like our editor’s pick, it has multiple USB ports for charging different devices at once.
Rodriguez uses the original version of this product, but there are other versions that offer USB-C charging and extra USB ports if you’re looking to charge other devices.
Compatible regions: EU, U.K., U.S., AU | Ports: 3-prong power plug, USB-A (2) | Voltage range: N/A, does not convert voltage | Dimensions: 3 x 1.5 x 1.9 in.
Individual plug adapters are especially useful if you are traveling light. This top-rated set includes five different plugs for countries like the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. Each plug is labeled with the countries and continents you can use it in. It also comes in a slightly larger white version, where each plug has a third metal prong, called a ground port, to protect your device from power surges, according to the brand.
Compatible regions: EU, U.K., U.S., AU | Ports: N/A | Voltage range: N/A, does not convert voltage | Dimensions: Individual plugs
Consider this converter If you are bringing devices like hair straighteners or curling irons that will need their voltage adjusted while abroad. This voltage converter adjusts incoming electricity to fit the 110 to 120-volt requirement for U.S. electronics to work properly. It can power devices with up to 230 watts of energy — check your device to make sure it uses less than 230 watts.
The converter has fans built in that prevent overheating and short-circuiting, according to the brand. It has four USB ports and two power outlets, making it a good option if you need to charge multiple devices at the same time. It comes with four different plug types and a detachable power cable.
Compatible regions: EU, U.K., U.S., AU, IT | Ports: 3-prong power plug (2), USB-A (4) | Voltage range: 110V — 220V, converts voltage down | Dimensions: 4.82 x 3.13 x 1.47 in.
Travel adapters typically come in two shapes: plug adapters and universal adapters.
In America, plug adapters have electrical prongs on one side and two or three pronged U.S. slots on the other. If you are traveling to the U.K., for example, your adapter will plug into rectangular-shaped U.K. outlets, and have slots where you can plug your two or three pronged U.S. devices into the adapter.
Universal adapters contain multiple plug adapters in one base. Typically, different electrical prongs slide in and out of the base via levers or buttons.
Travel adapters are typically intended to charge electronics like smartphones, laptops, headphones and portable batteries, says Sandra Miller, product manager at Ceptics, a travel adapter manufacturer. (Because Ceptics sells travel adapters, we only spoke with Miller about technical shopping guidance, not specific product recommendations).
“Voltage is essentially the pressure required to push the electrons coming out of the wall socket through the power cord that goes into your device, allowing that device to operate,” says Prouty.
Countries around the world have different voltage ratings for their electricity. North American power outlets use 110 to 120-volts so most electronics made there are designed to operate in that voltage range. Countries outside of North America typically have 220 to 240-volt outlets, and design their electronics to function in that range.
Products like smartphones, laptops and tablets are exceptions: they operate on a worldwide voltage range — as long as you have the right adapter, you can charge them in most places, according to our experts.
When traveling abroad with other types of devices, you need to match your destination’s plug type as well as its voltage rating in order to safely use your electronics. If you connect a device to an outlet with mismatched voltage ratings, you risk damaging the device, burning it out or causing an electrical fire, says Miller.
All electronics have a voltage rating printed on either the charger or the device itself, says Miller. Larger electronic devices like curling irons, hair straighteners and hair trimmers typically operate at a specific, limited voltage range. If you plan to travel with one of those devices, you will need a travel voltage converter to safely use them.
Voltage converters change the voltage of the outlet at your destination. This is crucial if you want to use single-voltage electronics like hair and curling irons abroad.
Hair and curling irons need a lot more power than small devices like smartphones and earbuds. That’s why travel voltage converters will typically have a power rating, measured in watts (W), that tells you how much power they can deliver to a plugged-in device, says Miller. “For example, a 200W voltage converter is limited to devices that require 200W or less, so you can’t use a 15,000W hair dryer with it,” says Miller. Connecting a device outside the supported wattage range can damage both the device and the voltage converter.
To make sure you buy the right adapter for your trip, it’s important to check what kind of electrical plug your destination uses. It’s also a good idea to contact the place you’ll be staying, to ask what kind of outlets they use, says Prouty.
There are over a dozen types of common plugs used across the world according to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a global not-for-profit organization that works to improve international electrical trade and innovations. Each plug type is given a letter, depending on which regions they’re compatible in.
Many countries share the same plug type — type C plugs, for example, are used across most of Europe. Some countries use different plug types depending on where you are in the country and when the electrical outlets were last updated— Italy uses three types (C, L and F).
Travel adapters, including our recommendations, list the regions they support by name or by plug type letter. Below is a world plugs list from the IEC:
Miller recommends checking the voltage rating of all the electronics you plan to travel with to see if any require conversion. Essential electronics like cell phones, tablets and laptops are typically rated for worldwide (100 to 240) voltage use and do not require conversion.
The most common travel electronics that require voltage conversion are hair straighteners and curling irons, says Miller. If you plan on using one, pack one with a worldwide voltage rating to eliminate the need for a voltage converter.
If you are traveling with an item that requires voltage conversion, look up the power rating (in watts) of the device, and make sure your voltage converter supports at least that much power output (in watts). For example, an expert-recommended curling iron like the Babyliss Pro Nano is rated for 120 volts and needs 140 watts to operate.
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at Select, and has covered consumer tech for over three years. To better understand travel adapters, he combined his own experience with Select staff recommendations and the advice of electronics experts. He also looked for top-rated models that were versatile and reliable and in line with our experts’ guidance.
Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter for Select on NBC News.SKIP AHEAD Select staff favorite travel adapters | What is a travel adapter? | What is voltage? | What is a travel voltage converter? | How to shop for travel adaptersEditor’s pickMost portable: Voltage converter: CompatibilityPriceTop-ratedCompatible regionsPortsVoltage rangeDimensions:Compatible regions:PortsVoltage range|Dimensions:Compatible regions:PortsVoltage range|Dimensions:Compatible regions:PortsVoltage rangeDimensionsType A (two prong)Type B (three prong)Type CType DType EType FType GType HType IType JType KType LType MType NType OCarl ProutySandra MillerCatch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.