My ‘Travel’ Surge Protector Blew Out My Hotel Room on First Use

Pow! Sparks fly, smoke rolls out, my hotel room goes dark.

I am sitting in the dark at midnight in my room at Les Arcades, Moroni, Comoros Islands. It is a nice option at 45 euros/night with breakfast. There is a small casino of slots on and a cafe on the grounds. I haven’t seen anything else because I got in mid-afternoon in the rain and could not resist sleeping and ignoring several wake-ups from my phone.

In my jet lag stupor I plugged in a product I ordered, without proper research, in another jet lag stupor. Other than the night guard the staff have all gone home so I have to wait for natural light. I went to the lobby for light and found mosquitoes. Despite a big Chinese-sponsored push to combat malaria, I am not taking chances just for my internet fix.

Travel surge protector sounds like a good idea. This dopey Lifehacker article recommended a model by Monoprice and I did not look at the reader comments, or the product specs, or product reviews. Not my usual practice!

Monoprice never claimed it to be travel-friendly and the info, including stories from other travelers who have set off sparks in their hotel rooms, were all there to see.

I realize I have been lulled into complacency by so many appliances being dual-voltage. Any gadget I travel with is now dual-voltage. My convertors are collecting dust in a drawer. So I did not even bother to check voltage rating.

That Lifehacker article does have a useful comment by kentchristopher, so I will have him speak rather than me:

As someone who travels internationally quite a bit, I’d like to say that the recommendations of this article (and some of the comments) are not very well thought out. Here’s why:

1. The featured product is a surge protector that only works on 110V (i.e. U.S. voltage). Where you most need a surge protector is outside the U.S. in developing countries (i.e. India) which have terribly inconsistent electricity and high likelihood of a surge which will kill your gadgets. Outside of North and South America, most countries run on 22oV, which means this surge protector is worthless in Europe and most of Asia. In all fairness, it’s very hard to find a compact surge protector that is 100V-240V compatible (truly international). I know of only one and it’s specific to laptops (see the first link mentioned in #3 below).

2. The alternatives suggested, both in the article and in the comments, are not even surge protectors — they’re just compact power strips with built-in USB chargers. Some of those (i.e. the Ziotek one mentioned in the article) are also 110V only, so worthless when traveling abroad. One made by Monster which is mentioned in the comments is 220V compatible — but on to the next point…

3. If you just want to plug in multiple devices, do as is suggested here and simply bring a $2 extension cord with 3-plug splitter at the end. Power outlets are usually less plentiful and less conveniently located in foreign countries. This gives you easier access, plus a way to plug in multiple devices with only one plug adapter. As for lacking built-in USB charging, you’re better off bringing your device’s original USB charger anyway, both because 3rd party USB chargers are often crap, and because some devices will only charge with their original charger if you happen to run them all the way down to the point that they shut off.

If you need a single outlet travel surge protector that works on 220V, APC makes a good one which you could pick up locally when you arrive (or find a foreign store that will ship internationally). See their surge selector to find the model specific to your destination. Note that you’ll still need a plug adapter, and none of these convert voltage — but that doesn’t matter for most gadgets’ power supplies these days.

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Comments

  1. Similar thing happened to me in Bangkok a couple of years ago. I got some sort of surge protector thing and also didn’t bother to look at the voltage specs. Plug it in…sparks and smoke. Managed to unplug it before doing any serious damage.

  2. Same thing happened to me several years back in Uganda. Almost fried the iPod I was using. At least you had the beach in Comoros.

  3. wow, you’re in Comoros! that’s cool. have been there several times.
    if you have a chance, try and visit the Trou De Prophet beach, and say hi to my friend Mickey, who will give you a great local tour and speaks great english.

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