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Tips for keeping your electronics charged while traveling

Losing power to your devices is one of the most frustrating things that can happen when you travel. But these days, keeping your phone and computer charged on the go is harder than ever.

At least that’s how travelers like Sharon Terera see it.

“It’s unexpectedly cut off from the rest of the universe — for hours at a time,” says Terera, human resources manager and frequent traveler from Limpopo, South Africa. “After that, you quickly learn how to navigate through power outages and work around the power shortage.”

Terera doesn’t go anywhere without two extra power banks just in case she loses access to power. And if you think that’s extreme, talk to other travelers. Between power outages, weird plugs, and batteries that seem constantly “low,” travelers are constantly looking for their next charge.

On a recent trip abroad, I confidently packed my “universal” power supply, thinking it would work anywhere. But I happened to be in South Africa, where a three-pronged Type M socket is used. (It’s one of four types of outlets in the country.) I had to rush to the nearest drugstore to find an adapter, and my cell phone battery was dead.

That wasn’t my only problem. One morning, in the middle of my visit, the power went out for several hours. 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, about 83 percent of reported major outages in the United States were attributed to weather-related events, according to an analysis by Climate Central. In fact, this country has one of the highest incidences of power outages in the developed world.

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So how do you find the right power supplies? And how can failures such as rolling blackouts be avoided? As Americans begin to travel again after a pandemic lull, they find unexpected answers.

Plugs are too often an afterthought, even for seasoned travelers. This 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 plug configurations that may or may not support your adapter. And even if it does, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to plug in your adapter without it falling out of the wall. (For example, I recently used a bedside table to clip my Apple adapter into a universal adapter.)

Alison Watta, a frequent traveler who publishes Exploration Solo, a blog for solo travelers, knows what it’s like. When her adapters don’t work, she goes 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 in an electronics store can help you find the right adapter, but the cable helps when there’s a language barrier,” she says.

For frequent travelers, a universal power supply is worth considering. The latest adapters are impressively versatile. The OneWorld ($49.99), for example, fits most common plug types and has one USB-C port plus three additional USB-A ports. It also conforms to the new BS8546 safety standard, making it less likely that your devices will be damaged in the event of a surge.

One of my favorite outlet strategies comes from Tom Harriman, a Clarksville, MD attorney. If he can’t find the right adapter, he asks his hotel concierge to borrow one from the lost-and-found office. “They usually lend you one — or give you one,” he says.

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Experienced travelers often travel with portable batteries called power banks to supplement the batteries in their phones and computers.

“It’s especially helpful if you’re using GPS navigation or other apps that consume power when you’re not on a network,” says Ron Scharman, managing director of FlyWithWine, a specialty luggage manufacturer. “By midday you may run out of power if you don’t have a backup.”

The latest power banks are compact and fast. The Satechi Quatro Wireless Powerbank ($99.99) looks like a phone and provides 10,000 milliamp hours (mAh) of power for power-hungry travelers. (That’s enough to charge the average smartphone about 1.5 times, more or less.) It has a wireless charger, a built-in Apple Watch charger, USB-C power delivery, and a USB-A port that lets you charge You can charge multiple devices at once. If you want something smaller, try AquaVault’s ChargeCard ($60), a credit-card-sized battery with fast-charging technology and 2,300mAh of capacity.

Power banks won’t fix everything. When the power went out in Cape Town, South Africa during rolling blackouts, a power bank bought me just an extra hour or two of work time. It didn’t bring the wifi back which meant I had to use precious cellphone data.

But having a power bank is better than not having one, and it’s definitely worth the extra bulk. A cell phone charger can mean you can make a necessary purchase or reach a loved one in an emergency with a contactless tap-to-pay system.

Look for hotels that have made a commitment to ensure you have adequate power during your stay. For example, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts has remodeled some of its hotels to include built-in wireless chargers and outlets in rooms and common areas. The most advanced hotels have charging stations on bedside tables and desks, so you never have to get on your hands and knees to find the nearest outlet.

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You can also buy smart luggage with chargers. Ateet Ahuja, a travel agency specializing in destination weddings, likes away luggage because some of its models have built-in chargers. “It’s a popular brand among professionals in the travel industry for a reason,” he says.

Finally, monitor your electronics. “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, who depend on connectivity for their livelihoods.

He has the right idea. If you have the opportunity to charge your devices, take it. Always.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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