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I'm traveling from North America to Asia next month, I'm wondering if it is safe to hook up a power strip (with a surge protector) into a travel adapter plug, instead of buying several travel adapter plugs.

  • You are most likely travelling from a 110v zone to a 220v zone. That means your travel adapter would do some voltage conversion. How much load you can put on it depends on the wattage of the device. The wattage should be on the adapter. For example this adapter can take upto 500W – Nivas May 26 '16 at 2:47
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    I do this all this the time; then I only have to take one adapter :) I've done it from Australia to Europe, Asia, US and Africa. I haven't done it from US back the other way, though (ie the direction you're going) but I suspect it won't be a problem with most devices being dual voltage nowadays. – Tim Malone May 26 '16 at 6:17
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    I made a few friends during conferences by showing up with a modified power strip; I had cut off the Euro plug of the strip and put on a US one. – MSalters May 26 '16 at 7:31
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    Be careful! Do not use a 110v surge protector on 230v since it will consider the 230v a surge! – rve May 26 '16 at 7:42
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    Noite that many devices don't need voltage conversion. Laptop power supplies, phone chargers etc. are usually universal these days. When I've gone fropm 230V to 110V countries I've never needed to take a transformer, by careful selection of which chargers I take. Hairdryers etc. are highly unlikely to be universal, and would require a big heavy transformer. Check the devices you're planning to take. – Chris H May 26 '16 at 8:20
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There are two types of travel adapter plugs commonly used:

  • Plug adapters. These just convert the physical plug into one of a different shape, but do not perform any voltage conversion. It is perfectly fine and common to use one with a power strip (with surge protector). As Aganju points out, you should be careful not to overload any circuits, as a power strip allows you to plug multiple devices into a single outlet. Also, be sure to check that the surge protector is rated to handle the voltage for your destination's electrical system. Some models are universal, but others may be 110V only and shouldn't be used in 220-240V electrical systems; check the markings on the device first.

  • Voltage converters/transformers. These are somewhat heavy transformers, much larger than a plug adapter, that increase or decrease the voltage of the power to allow it to be used with devices expecting a different voltage than the one locally available. Since many common electronic items carried by travelers are "dual-voltage" or "universal voltage" (they are marked as accepting a wide range of voltages, such as 100-240V), these aren't as common anymore and may be unnecessary, but are useful if you must travel with a non-universal device. They often include a plug adapter as part of their design.

    Transformers are marked with a maximum wattage that they are capable of handling. Many transformers, especially smaller and cheaper ones, may only handle a load of up to a few hundred watts. It is easy to exceed this limit either with a single high-power device (such as a hair dryer), or a number of lower-power devices. A power strip makes it much easier to overload the transformer.

    EDIT: Here's a report from someone describing how using a surge protector on the 110V side of a step-down transformer damaged the surge protector and created a safety hazard. Some of this depends on the type of transformer involved, but it's a good way to try to destroy your surge protector if nothing else. In short: I wouldn't use a surge protector on the other side of a transformer. A power strip that you are sure has no surge protection wouldn't have this problem, though just avoiding such setups all together is probably safest.

Personally, I haven't traveled with a voltage converter (carrying just plug adapters) in years, as I've arranged all the electrical devices I take with me to be universal voltage. Converters are heavy and bulky and I prefer to avoid them. Laptops, cell phone chargers, tablets, cameras, etc... are typically universal, though it's important to check your devices. Some travelers may carry a hairdryer or curling iron, which might not be universal voltage. It is possible to buy special travel models (e.g. from Magellan's in the US, or a travel supply vendor wherever you are) instead, especially as you'd otherwise need a high-wattage transformer to handle a hairdryer. Or obtain such items in your destination if necessary.

  • Very thorough and detailed answer, thank you very much! – Curious Spider May 26 '16 at 4:06
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    @Ibrahim Thanks! Just to make sure you see it, I am downgrading the idea of using a surge protector on the other side of a transformer from "probably not a good idea" to "actually a pretty bad idea." – Zach Lipton May 26 '16 at 8:12
  • Do note that there is a difference between a "surge protector" and a "power strip". A power strip is just a string of electrical sockets with (maybe) a circuit breaker. It shouldn't have any problems. A surge protector has electronic components to shunt overvoltages to ground. If the transformer you plug it into produces a voltage even slightly higher than the normal range the SP was designed to accept, you will, at best, slowly burn it out. When travelling between voltage standards, I recommend taking a pocket multimeter to verify all points in your conversion chain. They're cheap. – Perkins May 26 '16 at 19:45
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yes and no.

The adapter does not add any risk or danger, so the answer would be: Yes it is safe.

However, and this applies at home the same, the total power you are pulling through all the plugs in the power strip must not be over the total supported limit, otherwise you will either trip the circuit, or start a fire. Depending on your target country, electrical systems are not always built to handle large power drains, and the circuit tripper might be not working or non-existent. Then it might not be save.

If you use only the usual travel stuff, like cell phone and camera battery chargers and laptop power supplies and such, you probably don't need to worry. I would not recommend using a hair dryer or space heater through that, though.

  • I don't plan to bring a hair dryer, but now I feel more confident, thank you! Although now I'm getting contradicting answers, you and Tom are saying that it is safe, although Nivas is proposing to bring a step up convertor. Do I need a convertor? – Curious Spider May 26 '16 at 3:46
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    As I mentioned in my reply to Nivas, modern electronics rarely need transformers as they run on a wide voltage range. Look at your chargers, it is usually noted right on the device what the voltage range is, most made in the past 8 to 10 years support 100-240 VAC 50/60Hz. – user13044 May 26 '16 at 3:50
  • Oh ok, that answers my question, thank you very much! – Curious Spider May 26 '16 at 3:54
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Yes it is safe, a travel adapter is simply a plug and socket built into one piece. Any current the power strip can handle up to circuit breaker tripping can be handled by the adapter.

But you will find in some parts of Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam) that sockets take both US style flat blade plugs as well as the European round pins. Japan uses the US style flat blade exclusively, as does Taiwan. So an adapter may not be needed everywhere.

  • This is true only if the voltage in the destination country is 110v/120v (Us/Canada). If travelling to China/India for instance, the destination voltage would be 220v and he would need a step up converter (like this). Step up converters have a max wattage specification and there is a possibility of the converter getting damaged if the wattage is exceeded. – Nivas May 26 '16 at 2:50
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    @Nivas - The OP is asking about connections, not voltages. Most modern electronics (cameras, phone, tablets, etc) run on wide voltage range from 100 to 220V so a converter is not required very often. – user13044 May 26 '16 at 3:20
  • Presumably most US strips are only rated to 120V or so though, so there's some arc risk when putting 230V through them. – CMaster May 26 '16 at 8:22
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    @CMaster - The UL (Underwriters Laboratory which sets standards and certification for electronics in the USA) has a 250VAC, 20 amp standard for power strips, so the voltage difference is not an issue (unless you find some really cheap import that hasn't been UL rated). – user13044 May 26 '16 at 8:51
  • Well that certainly makes things easier – CMaster May 26 '16 at 8:52

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