Travel Power Adapters: Ours Search for a Better Solution

Travel adapters are something that you don’t normally think about. Oftentimes you need them before you even know it. With all the different electrical socket types used around the world, international power adapters really come in handy for those on the go.

Two years ago, I visited our China office for the first time. I brought my laptop with me, hoping to do some light gaming for the down time. Once I had the chance to boot it up, though, I found out that the hotel where I stayed had Australian-style wall sockets. I had to buy a monstrosity of a surge protector from the local department store.

The socket in my hotel room, which coincidentally is exactly how my face looked upon finding out.

My American laptop plug, which did not fit the hotel socket

This year, we at EEEKit started looking into travel essential kits, and through it, we learned much about travel adapters. Much of the information I wish I had known a couple of years ago.

Travel adapters vs Power converters

If you search for “travel adapters” on Amazon or eBay, you’ll find 2 different types of products.

On the more expensive side, you’re find power converters that not only provides the compatible plug for the wall outlet, but also convert the output voltage.

On the less expensive side, you’ll see simple wall adapters. For many modern electronic devices and gadgets, this is all you need, and this is what we’re talking about.

This year, we at EEEKit started looking into travel essential kits, and through it, we learned much about travel adapters. Much of the information I wish I had known a couple of years ago.

Common design and problems

Looking through the travel wall adapters available on the market, we noticed that most of them are variations on a common theme.

On the output side, they normally feature an all-purpose outlet that accepts most or all of the different regional standard plugs.  On the input side, their own plugs are accessed through a fold-out or pop-out mechanism. This allows the adapter to be compact while still supporting the various standards, thus being truly travel-friendly and international.

However, as we looked deeper into user comments, we realized that these travel adapter designs have some common problems. We will be using a generic pop-out/fold-out international power adapter for example.

We’ve surveyed 108 random customer complaints and got these stats:

“It keeps falling off”

The overwhelmingly most common issue is that the adapters’ bulk prevents them from staying on the wall outlet properly. Unfortunately, while compatible with the many different international standards, pop out adapters have a less than optimal form factor that can sometimes even prevent them from doing their job.

Among these “fall off the wall” comments, some of them specifically indicate that these travel adapters do not fit some Europeans outlets, which have a circular indent into the wall. Some pop out adapters had not taken these types of outlet into account in their design and have prongs that are too short to be fully plugged in.

Indented EU socket

These prongs might not be long enough

“I see sparks when I plug it in”

The next most noticeable area of complaint is quality. About 32% of complaints involve either visible sparks, overheating, or general unreliability. These are some common problems with cheaper wall adapters that use inferior materials or lack adequate quality control. It would be hard to know which specific unit has these problems without having owned and used it.

“It’s kind of a hassle to put the prongs back in”

A few buyers have also noted that the spring-loaded lock/unlock pop out mechanism is inconvenient or unreliable. Although these types of international power adapters unlock easily with a push of a switch, they often require manually pushing the prongs back in, holding them in place, and then locking the switch in order to lock the prongs back in. Of course, having a spring-loaded mechanism means having more moving parts, which adds another potential point of failure.

Our solution

After researching dozens of manufactures and their products, we finally found a better design for the travel power adapter. This design solves some of the problems that the common generic international adapter has and is even more compact and elegant.

Stays in the wall better

Generic design plugged in

New design plugged in

Fits indented EU socket

The new travel adapter features an EU adapter that's a whole quarter inch longer than the popular generic adapter

The EU adapter fits nicely in the EU indented socket

The whole thing plugged in

Compact and minimalist design, no unnecessary moving parts.

While no one product is perfect, we feel really good about this new travel adapter, as it is a vast improvement over the previously dominant design. We will start featuring this neat adapter in our new travel kits, stayed tuned!