Botswana Traveler

An American explores the desert and the delta

Power adapter buying guide

Posted on | August 12, 2009 | 20 Comments

I blame the EU

I blame the EU

In the USA, we have one kind of plug.  No, wait, we have 2: the 2 prong and 3 prong (excluding those weird dryer plugs).  All houses have 3 prong outlets (if they’ve been lived in this century) and you buy something from the store, go home, and plug it in.  The plug will always work with the plug on your wall.  Is this the case in Botswana?  Noooooooo it is not.  Botswana has 2 types of non-compatible plugs used extensively in the country,  the South African M-Plug and the British G-Plug (Just found this nice website with a list of worldwide plugs – however they claim the British Type-G plug is rare in Botswana, which it is not).  For example, I’m sitting in an office right now that has both types of plugs.  You will need adapters for BOTH kinds.  Complicating matters is the fact that many to most of the electronics you can buy in Botswana use the Europlug, which cannot be plugged directly into ANY outlet in the country.  Thankfully, just about everywhere (grocery stores, Pep stores, electronics stores, general dealers) sells cheap converters between these 3 types of plug.  You could just bring one type of adapter with you to Botswana and plan on buying the converters when you need them, however, who wants that kind of hassle on vacation?  Is this where you want to be spending your time?  Plus, plugging things in through multiple adapters is always a mess.

Transformer vs. Converter?

Before I talk about converters, we need to talk about transformers.  For the first 3 months I was in Botswana, I ran all my American electronics (laptop computer, battery chargers, external hard drives) through a transformer.  I thought I needed this as the electricity in Botswana is 220V and 50HZ, completely different than the 120V and 60HZ my USA electronics were used to.  I thought they’d either blow up or melt if I plugged them right into the wall without first converting the current.  So every time we used the laptop or charged batteries, which was every day, we had to sit near the transformer and power-strip, playing musical-plugs with the 6 outlets we had available.  More-over, we found the cheap transformer I had bought to be slightly frightening, making a high-pitched hum when on and electrocuting anyone who foolishly touched it due to it’s ungrounded plug (for reference, DO NOT purchase the Seven Star Step Up and Down Transformer TC500 – it broke within 4 months and is like a brick in your suitcase that you’ll curse yourself for bringing).

A power brick usually indicates you can plug this in anywhere with only a simple converter

Anyone who has ever traveled internationally knows how naive this was.  I now know that many electronic items, including our laptops, external hard drives, and most of our battery chargers, are already designed to work worldwide and will accept power at voltages from 100V to 240V and frequencies from 50HZ to 60HZ.  The only item we brought that cannot run through a converter is a cheap battery charger from Walmart.  How do you know if you can plug something right into the wall with only a converter?  Check the device itself or, more likely, the “power brick”, for the listed input voltages.  If it has a power-brick, it will likely work worldwide with only a simple converter.  If you can avoid taking something with you that will require a transformer (things like a hair dryer and some cheap battery chargers only work at 110V), then do.  Most things you will need on vacation, or even when moving to Botswana, will work without one.  If you must bring a transformer, find one with good online reviews like the VT-500 Heavy Duty Voltage Converter Transformer 110V/240V or the low power REI Transformer. DO NOT go for the cheapest one you can find.  There’s a reason it is cheap.

What to buy

So, this leaves us with the promised buying guide.  What I really wanted was one of those universal power adapters that would work with both the British and South African style plugs, but alas, I have yet to find one.  What I recommend instead are getting a handful of each type of adapter. They are cheap and small and work great.  I bought all mine from Amazon because I really didn’t know where else to get these things in the States and the links provided will take you there.  Here they are:

  • VP 110 – Universal Adapter for S. Africa – ESSENTIAL.  If you only get 1 adapter, get this one and get a few of them.  They are cheap, light, and small and no universal adapter will convert from these South Africa style M-plugs.
  • US to UK 3-prong Travel Outlet Plug Adapter – If you are an American traveling to Botswana, do yourself a favor and pick up a few of these cheapo adapters as well. Your lodge or favorite internet cafe may only have the British style plugs, so be prepared!

Universal Adapters? Don’t bother…

My advice is to not bother with universal adapters unless you already own one.  In that case, it may convert to the British style G-Plug or to the Europlug, both of which have widely available adapters in Botswana to convert to the South African M-Plug. I have 2 All-in-One Travel Power Plug Adapters that are marginally useful to convert to the Europlug, but the British style G-Plug adapter broke on both.  Save yourself the hassle during your trip and buy a few of the cheap adapters that do 1 job and do it well.

Update:  I came across a universal adapter kit that claims to cover all countries in the world, specifically mentioning South Africa as one often overlooked by similar kits.  If you are determined to buy one travel converter set, this one at Roaming Fox Travel Accessories may be your answer


20 Responses to “Power adapter buying guide”

  1. Matt Bracken
    September 3rd, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

    Thanks very much for this wonderfully written and informative piece! I am showing it to all my Botswana travelers and just mentioned it on Trip Advisor. Thanks!!

  2. Travel Tip: Power plugs in Botswana | Chobe Safari
    September 20th, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    […] More on adapters vs. transformer/converters […]

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