Are you a frequent traveler who travels with your cell phone, PDA, GPS, portable hard drives, Bluetooth headset, booklite, and other electronic devices which requires half your suitcase be filled with chargers? 

You get to your hotel room and need to charge your phone and you spend 10 minutes plugging in different chargers until you find the one that fits and makes all the blinky blink lights work? 

I had enough of that noise years ago!  Folks, there’s a much better solution.

 

Devices:

ALL of my devices save for my laptop and professional DSLR camera bodies now are powered and run from a USB port.  I have all the devices listed above and more.  I run and charge ALL of them through built in USB ports.  How? 

First, every time I replaced such a device I refused to replace it if it didn’t have a USB port.  We normally replace these items every year or two, so it didn’t take long until every such device that I currently use had a USB port.  

Small devices have “mini” USB ports.  Your laptop has a full size USB port.  The cables that come with such devices always have one size on each end.  This makes things easy. 

Second, I made adequately powered USB ports, and enough of them, on my next laptop a priority.

 

Let’s talk laptops:

Laptops generally come with USB 2.0 ports that put out significantly less power than a desktop's USB 2.0 ports.  Many don’t realize this.  Have you ever had an USB powered external hard drive where the cable came with two USB connectors to plug in?  This is because USB powered external hard drives are almost always used with laptops.  Laptops generally have limited powered USB 2.0 ports. 

When shopping for a new laptop take note of the power output of the USB ports.  This is a hard specification to find so you’ll have to search around a bit.  It will help if you buy a name brand “business model” or a professional portable graphics workstation.  These almost always come with full power USB ports. 

Sure, you can power and charge 1-2 devices at a time with almost any laptop with a USB port.  However, if you want to use your laptop, charge its battery at the fastest rate, power external hard drives, and charge your phone and other devices at the same time.. then you’ll need full power USB ports. 

My business laptop is a 4.5 pound model with 4 full power USB 2.0 ports.  It was offered with a choice of power adapters of different wattage levels.  When used with the low power level adapter you could use the laptop and it would ‘slowly’ charge the battery.  When used with the high power level adapter you can use and charge everything all at the same time.  For an extra $10 on your initial order you can get the higher wattage level power adapter. 

AC/DC/Air adapters.  Look for this option when ordering your next laptop.  All of mine have these for travel chargers.  They’re smaller and lighter than the main charger and can be used virtually anywhere, in any type of transportation.  You can use them on airplanes (these ports are usually available only on Business Class seats and above), in the car, or any hotel.  I find them invaluable.

 

Dell AC/DC Auto Air Adapter

A Dell Brand AC/DC/AIR Converter

A Dell Brand AC/DC/AIR Converter

I carry a small zippered nylon bag with my laptop power adapter, 3 into 2 plug adapter, a short extension cord (many Thai hotel rooms only have one outlet), an extra mini flash card reader, and 4-5 small USB cables to power my devices.  The bag is only 2x4x6 inches.  All my charges, all my cables, everything I need while on the road goes in this bag.  This charges my cell phone, PDA, GPS, Bluetooth headset, and external hard drives.  I’m probably forgetting something.

 

Alternatives:

There are several alternatives to a business level laptop IF you still make sure all your devices can be powered and charged via the USB port. 

If you visit Pantip Plaza or any other electronics store you’ll find a small power adapter that plugs into any outlet, and has 2-4 USB ports as outputs.  These are specifically made to power USB devices.  They don’t do anything else. 

 

AC Outlet USB adapter

A 50 Baht AC to USB Power Converter from Pantip

A 50 Baht AC to USB Power Converter from Pan

If you already have a powered USB hub, one powered by its own adapter, it ‘might’ be putting out enough power to charge your devices.  The nice thing about these two adapters is that they don’t require a laptop. 

 

USB Hubs

Several AC powered USB Hubs

Several AC powered USB Hubs

A final and third option is a USB charger powered through the cigarette lighter of your vehicle.  These come with 1-6 USB ports for charging, and come with full size or mini USB ports.  These are just becoming popular so look around until you find one you like. 

 

Car power port to USB Adapter

Automobile Cigarette Lighter to USB Power Converter, 60 baht at Pantip

 

What about my DSLR batteries?

In the last ten years I’ve NEVER carried a charger for my DSLR batteries when traveling!  Modern professional level DSLRs have batteries that provide enough power for at least 1000 images, often twice this amount, and I carry up to four batteries.  Four batteries still weighs less and takes up less room than the big honking charger that charges them.  I’ve yet to take a vacation long enough to exhaust the batteries, and I’ve traveled for up to a month at a time.

If you have a consumer level DSLR with small batteries they’re normally only good for 300-400 images.  And the chargers for these are relatively small.  You’ll probably need to carry a charger for this type of camera. 

Next time you buy a device consider making a USB powered/charged device a priority.  Reduce the ‘stuff’ you need to carry.  Also remember, while a normal charger for your device is very specific and you’ll have a hard time finding one if it breaks or is forgotten at home, that USB ports are everywhere!  You can find a USB port virtually anywhere in the world and charge your device in just an hour or two.  This can be a real lifesaver.