Travel adapters are the sort of thing we all tend to leave it until the airport to buy - or, worse, from our hotel once we land on the other side and realise we forgot them. That’s a great way to pay inflated prices for a limited choice though, and you can save a lot of money by planning ahead and buying a couple of power adapters online before your holiday.
Adapters have come a long way over the last few years too. There’s no longer any need to build up a collection of different adapters for different countries, as it’s now easy to buy an adapter that can be, uh, adapted for just about any region, so that one piece of kit can cover you wherever you go.
You can even find some world-to-world adapters, which will take any plug type, and connect to any socket type - ideal not only for travelling, but also for any foreign tech that you end up bringing back with you from your trip and want to use back at home.
Even more useful are travel adapters that incorporate USB sockets, which mean you can use one plug to charge multiple devices, since most of the tech you travel with probably charges by USB anyway.
Just note that we’ve seen mostly adapters with USB-A sockets - some phones and laptops ship with cables with USB-C connectors at both ends now, so make sure you have a USB-A-to-USB-C cable with you to keep those topped up. But USB-C ports are appearing now, as with the Syncwire Quick Charger 3.0 USB-C 48W Wall Charger below.
If you're busy planning a trip, you might also want to take a look at the best travel gadgets we've tested, along with our pick of the top travel apps for your phone. And if you're struggling to keep your phone and other devices charged while you travel, you might also want to check out our guide to the best portable power banks.
Regions and voltages
The most important thing to check before you buy a travel adapter is what sort of plug the area you're travelling to uses. For the sake of this article, we're going to assume that you'e based in the UK (like us), which means you'll need an adapter to travel almost anywhere in the world, with rare exceptions like Hong Kong that use the UK plug.
For the most part there are three broad regions of plug beyond the UK type: the round pinned plugs used across Europe, the flat straight pins used across America and some parts of Asia, and the flat slanted pins used in Australia and the rest of Asia. Not every country uses the sort of plug you'd expect though, so it's always worth double-checking with a quick Google search ahead of a trip, and there are a few other unique plug types out there to watch out for.
Voltage can also be an issue. UK plugs use 220-240V, which is conveniently what you'll find across Europe and Australia. US sockets only run at 120V though, while Japan offers an even skimpier 110V. For the most part this isn't an issue, but it may mean that some devices charge more slowly than you're used to, and some of the most power-intensive might not work at all if they can't draw sufficient power from the mains to run. Unfortunately there's nothing a travel adapter can do about that, as they don't convert voltage.
2-pin vs 3-pin
One thing to look out for in travel adapters is whether or not they support earth pins. While 3-pin plugs are the standard in the UK, elsewhere in the world they're either not used at all, or are only sometimes found.
Earthing helps protect both you and your gadgets from electric shock, so in general you might prefer to opt for 3-pin adapters, which offer an extra level of protection. However, be warned that this may limit where you can use them - the US in particular has both 2-pin and 3-pin sockets, so you may find that your 3-pin plug simply won't fit into some sockets, and you might wish you'd risked it with a 2-pin model.
Best travel adapters 2018
TEC UK to EU Travel Adapter Twin Pack
Let's start with something dead simple: this is a twin pack of UK to EU travel adapters, which will let you use your UK tech just about anywhere in Europe.
They're cheap and cheerful, but they work - and for most people, that's enough. They're also an awful lot cheaper from Amazon than they would be if you bought the exact same ones in an airport newsagent.
If you know you mostly travel in Europe, or just have a specific trip coming up that you need an adapter or two for, this is the cheapest way to charge your gadgets once you're there.
TEC UK to US Travel Adapter Twin Pack
Along very similar lines, here's the exact same adapter, but for the US, and other countries that use the same standard, which include Canada, Mexico, Japan, most of South America, and a few others.
Remember that it won't convert the voltage, so you may find that some of your UK devices charge more slowly in the US, and a rare few might not even charge it all if they can't draw sufficient power - but in our experience this is pretty rare.
Go Travel Duo Earthed UK to EU Power Adapter
This handy power adaptor from Go Travel will let you charge up to four devices simultaneously through just one plug: two through the UK mains sockets, and another two through the included USB-A sockets.
Bear in mind that both are earthed, meaning they're ideal for safely charging high usage devices like laptops, but it means the US model comes with a non-removable earth pin, and so won't fit into 2-pin sockets in the US.
Skross World Travel Adapter MUV USB
Skross is one of the best recognised and most trusted names around when it comes to travel adapters, which is why we've picked its MUV USB adapter for our round-up.
Designed for 2-pin, un-earthed devices, this is perfect for less power-intensive tech like razors, phones, tablets, or e-readers, but might not be able to keep up with a laptop or hairdryer's power needs. On the plus side, that means its 2-pin outputs will work in all US and European sockets.
However it has the advantage of accepting input devices from the UK, US, Australia, Europe, and most of Asia, and outputting to all of the same countries.
You also get two USB-A sockets, which share a 5V power supply. You can use those to charge two USB devices while simultaneously charging something else through the main socket, making this ideal for anyone with a few devices they need to charge all at once.
Skross World Travel Adapter Pro Light USB
This Skross adapter looks pretty similar to the one we listed above, but it has one significant difference: it includes an earth pin, and is rated for up to 1575W, meaning you can safely use it to (quickly) charge high power devices like laptops.
As with other 3-pin plugs, note that it means it won't fit every plug socket - the earth pin isn't removable, so won't fit 2-pin sockets in the US or Australia, meaning you might find some sockets you just can't use. Also note that this does support European plugs, but only through using the detachable plug section, which then means you can't use the included USB sockets for charging - though those will work in every other region.
SyncWire 4-Port Quick Charger
Here's something a little different. This four-port USB charger from Syncwire comes with interchangeable plugs for the UK, USA, and Europe, so you just grab the one you need for your trip and you'll be able to keep all of your USB devices charged.
Obviously that also means this is ideal to use at home too, so it won't just sit and gather dust between holidays, unlike most travel chargers. Two of the ports are only rated to 1A/5W, which is a bit slow, but the other two offer 2.4A/12W, which should be fast enough for most purposes, though it might take a while to fully top up a laptop.
Syncwire Quick Charger 3.0 USB-C 48W Wall Charger
Another solid charger from Syncwire that comes with interchangeable UK, US and EU plug heads.
The Syncwire Quick Charger 3.0 USB-C 48W Wall Charger needn't be restricted to travel, as it's a perfectly good wall charger in its own right for laptops that use USB-C for charging (such as Apple's MacBooks).
But why have a travel adapter and a separate wall charger? Just have one, and swap the heads depending on where you are travelling.
It's compact, and available in either white or black. And it features Quick Charge 3.0 so you can charge your compatible devices super fast. It will, of course, charge other slower-charging devices through the same port.
Anker PowerPort 4 Lite
The Anker PowerPort 4 Lite lacks Quick Charge 2.0 or 3.0 compatibility but not every device is compatible with that anyway, so these four standard USB-A ports will be fine for most, with enough to satisfy a small family on the move.
It does feature PowerIQ and VoltageBoost, however.
It features interchangeable UK and EU plug heads, but strangely none for US or Australia/New Zealand.
UK To India Adaptor
India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka require different travel adapters, and these can be expensive at the airport, so buy before travelling.
You can adapt an EU travel adapter using a pen stuck in one of the wall-socket holes, but - if that sounds unwise to you - just buy one of these.
Actually, you get two, as it's a twin pack, so even better value for money.