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 display “low” all the time, travelers are constantly looking for their next recharge.
I confidently packed my “universal” AC adapter on a recent trip abroad, thinking it would work anywhere. But I happened to be in South Africa, which uses a three-pin Type M plug. (It’s one of four types of outlets found in the country.) I had to rush to the nearest drugstore to find an adapter, nearly out of battery on my cell phone.
It wasn’t my only problem. In the middle of my visit, the power went out for several hours one morning. And again in the afternoon. Turns out my neighborhood was experiencing a power outage as the summer heat strained the South African power grid.
Power outages are also a common problem in the United States. Between 2000 and 2021, according to an analysis by Climate Central, about 83% of major outages reported in the United States have been attributed to weather-related events. In fact, this country has one of the highest incidences of power outages in the developed world.
So how do you find the right power adapters? And how can you avoid breakdowns, such as power outages? As Americans begin to travel again after a peak in the pandemic, they are finding unexpected answers.
Too often traffic jams are an afterthought, even for experienced travelers. It is a mistake. There are more than a dozen commonly used electrical outlets around the world. Even if your adapter fits the outlet, there are different outlet configurations that may or may not work with your adapter. And even if it does, there’s no guarantee that it will allow you to plug in your adapter without it falling off the wall. (For example, I recently used a nightstand to wedge my Apple adapter into a universal adapter.)
Alison Watta, an avid traveler who publishes Exploration Solo, a blog for solo travelers, knows what it’s like. If her adapters don’t work, she heads to the nearest electronics store. Watta recommends taking your US plug with you, especially if you are in a non-English speaking country.
“Most people who work at an electronics 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 incredibly versatile. The OneWorld ($49.99), for example, fits most major outlet types and has a USB-C port, along with three additional USB-A ports. It also complies with the new BS8546 safety standard, making it less likely to damage your devices in the event of a power surge.
One of my favorite outlet strategies comes from Tom Harriman, an attorney from Clarksville, Maryland. When he can’t find the right adapter, he asks his hotel concierge to borrow one from the lost and found. “They usually lend you one – or give you one,” he says.
Experienced travelers often travel with portable batteries called power banks to supplement their phone and computer batteries.
“It’s especially useful when you’re using GPS navigation or other power-draining apps when you’re not on a network,” says Ron Scharman, chief executive of FlyWithWine, a company that specializes in making luggage. “At noon, you can run out of power if you don’t have backup.”
The latest external batteries are compact and fast. The Satechi Quatro Wireless Power Bank ($99.99) looks like a phone and provides power-hungry travelers with 10,000 milliamp-hours (mAh) of power. (That’s enough to charge the average smartphone about 1.5 times, more or less.) It includes a wireless charger, built-in Apple Watch charger, USB-C power delivery, and USB-A port, which let you charge multiple devices. immediately. If you want something smaller, try AquaVault’s ChargeCard ($60), a credit card-sized battery with fast-charging technology and 2,300mAh of power.
Power banks won’t solve everything. When the electricity went out in Cape Town, South Africa during blackouts, a power bank only gave me an extra hour or two of work. It didn’t bring WiFi back which meant I had to use up valuable cell phone data.
But it’s better to have a power bank than not, and it’s definitely worth the extra bulk. A cell phone charger can mean being able to make a necessary purchase with a contactless payment system or reach a loved one in an emergency.
Look for hotels that are committed to ensuring you have enough energy during your stay. For example, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts has revamped some of its hotels to include built-in wireless chargers and outlets in guest rooms and community areas. The most cutting-edge hotels have charging stations on bedside tables and desks, so you never have to get on all fours to look for the nearest outlet.
You can also buy smart luggage with chargers. Ateet Ahuja, a travel company that specializes in destination weddings, likes Away luggage because some of its models come with chargers. “It’s a popular brand with travel industry professionals for good reason,” he says.
Finally, monitor your electronic devices. “I always keep my devices charged,” says Michal Jonca, community manager for PhotoAiD, a passport photo website. This is especially important for digital nomads like Jonca, whose livelihoods depend on connectivity.
He has the right idea. When you have the option to charge your devices, grab it. Still.
Prospective travelers should consider local and national public health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning any travel. Information on travel health advisories can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s interactive map showing travel recommendations by destination and on the CDC’s travel health advisories webpage.