How do I Choose the Best USB Travel Charger?

H. Bliss

When choosing a universal serial bus (USB) travel charger, important points to consider are power source, size, and features. Power sources from which a USB travel charger can charge include a wall outlet, a car cigarette lighter socket, or the sun. Travel chargers can be compact with limited features or large with multiple functions and plugs.

A variety of USB charger cables.
A variety of USB charger cables.

USB travel chargers can come with a variety of features. Some travel power strips equipped with three-prong plugs also come embedded with USB ports that can be used to charge USB devices. Though these power strips can be large and more difficult to transport, they offer the benefit of having several USB power ports and several plugs for other devices all in one area of the room. This can be vital for a business traveler who does computer work in hotel rooms, which requires powering several devices at once.

USB travel chargers can be very convenient for business travelers, who often do computer work from hotel rooms.
USB travel chargers can be very convenient for business travelers, who often do computer work from hotel rooms.

An important feature when choosing a USB travel charger is compatibility with the device you wish to use. Many types of devices can be charged by USB, but the electricity needed to power or charge a USB device can vary. Ensure that the charger you get is able to adjust voltages to meet the power needs of the devices you want to charge without overcharging them and damaging the device.

If you are on the go in a car most of the time, you may want a USB travel charger that draws power from a car cigarette lighter. Cigarette lighter chargers with USB capability come in a variety of colors and designs to suit varied aesthetic preferences and usually offer two or more USB plugs for charging devices. These devices are particularly helpful for a smart phone user who does a lot of driving.

One drawback to a charger that draws power from cigarette lighter is that it relies on the car battery when the motor is not running. On some cars, the battery is unavailable as a power source to the cigarette lighter when the vehicle is turned off, so the charger will not work when the car is parked. Other vehicles may allow the charger to draw power until the battery is drained. In either case, leaving your electronics visible in an unattended vehicle can invite vehicle break-ins.

One type of advanced charger is the solar USB travel charger. This device is most commonly used by hunters and the military. Industrial versions of the solar USB charger sometimes come in camouflage and are significantly more expensive than most other chargers. Though cheaper versions of the solar USB travel charger exist, many of them charge weakly and take a great deal of time to charge a normal USB-charging device like a mobile telephone.

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Discussion Comments


The problem with those USB travel chargers is that they only tend to work well in areas where there is a lot of sunlight during the day. If you're living in or visiting somewhere that is usually overcast you need a really expensive one to make it worth the trouble to lug it around in the back country.

They can be a godsend when you need one but I would just get a small one and use it for emergencies rather than really relying on it for anything.


@browncoat - It's not as bad as it could be. Most USB cables are a standard size even if phone companies tend to get a bit more creative. And even then I definitely have multiple devices that will fit the same size of USB.

Generally, as long as you have the right cable you're going to be fine. I have about three of them and they fit all my devices, although one of them tends to be a bit wobbly. Works with my USB car charger and everything else I need it to.


It really annoys me that there isn't just a standard kind of USB charger. I don't see why they have to make the plugs in different sizes. There should just be one, or maybe two different kinds, for bigger devices and smaller devices.

I guess they make those USB phone chargers in different sizes so that you are forced to buy from the company if it goes missing, rather than just being able to get a generic one.

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