Travelers abroad often assume they need to add a small, but weighty, converter to their packing list, but a converter often isn’t required.
Why? Well, first, a quick vocabulary lesson:
Converter: this little box actually converts the voltage of the appliance or electronic item from your country’s typical voltage to that of the country you are visiting. The USA, most of the Americas, and Japan operate on 110/120 voltage. Most of the world, however, runs on 220/240, to include Europe, Africa, Australia, and most Asian countries.
Adapter: this small, lightweight gadget makes the plug of your appliance fit into a foreign outlet, which is usually shaped differently than those in the USA.
Pro Tip: Adapters needed for southern Europe (i.e., Italy) and the UK are different than those needed for northern Europe.
There are many dual voltage electronics and appliances that automatically switch to the appropriate voltage required when plugged in. If your electronics and appliances are dual voltage, then you will need only an adapter to fit your plug into a foreign outlet.
Most updated electronics and appliances such as camera chargers, cell phone chargers, laptops, some travel hair dryers, and so forth are dual voltage. Note that dual-voltage travel hair dryers may need to be manually switched, and, if high-powered, may pull too much electricity in older hotels.
To determine if the appliance requires a converter for use abroad, look for the voltage rating which is often printed in raised type or on a label at the back or base of the item. If it reads something like 100V~240V, then it is a dual voltage appliance and does not require a converter in most parts of the world.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check your electronics and appliances before making your decision to forego a converter.
Curling irons, hair dryers, and the like tend to be the exception in convenience, but it’s a problem easily and cheaply solved.
Conair, for instance, makes a number of inexpensive dual voltage curling irons, hair dryers, and flat irons. These can be purchased at stores like Target, WalMart, and beauty supply shops—or ordered online. The words “dual voltage” will be printed on the front of the package.
This author rarely takes a converter when traveling abroad, especially when staying in 3- to 5-star hotels and updated homes.
Hotels with lower star ratings and older homes may have antiquated wiring systems, so you may still be better off throwing that converter in your suitcase, just to be safe.
Pro Tip: Consider taking two or three adapters for use at your destination so that you can charge or use more than one appliance at a time.
There are also “all-in-one” converter/adapter units suitable for most continents. These gizmos are generally available wherever standard converter and adapter sets are sold. While they may require a bit of finagling in order to operate the first time, they provide a convenient alternative to carrying a converter and several adapters.
Savvy travelers pack light, but smart. Think through what you’ll need, and do your research. If traveling from the USA, you may have difficulty or find it inconvenient to shop for a useful converter or adapter for your American appliances. Your hotel desk, however, may have a stash of left-behind gadgets for loan, so be sure to ask if you find yourself needing something.
If you plan ahead, you'll be more likely to breeze through your trip soaking up the sites and culture instead of worrying about whether you can use your electronics.