Travel Adapter and Voltage Converter Basics

How to Use Electrical Outlets Abroad Without Frying Your Electronics

Imagine this: You arrive in Europe, groggy after traveling for 20 hours. You check in to your hotel, take a hot shower, then plug in your hairdryer with your fancy new plug adapter and ZZZTT!! No more hairdryer. Didn’t think about the voltage difference, did you?

There are two components to using your US-plug electronics abroad: the shape of the plug and the voltage the device requires. There are several different shapes of plugs and outlets across the world (for which you need an adapter), and some of them vary in voltage levels as well (for which you need a converter).

For example, the US has two types of plugs and outlets: the parallel two-prong, or the parallel two-prong with that extra round piece underneath. Our regular outlets are 110-volt, and our electronics function at 110 volts (or less, but not more). Europe, one the other hand, has a two-prong plug with round pieces that is different from ours, and their regular outlets have a standard of 230 volts.

This means two things: 1) You won’t be able to fit any US plug into a European outlet without an adapter, and 2) Our 110-volt hair dryers (electric razors, etc.) fry themselves when we plug them into European 230-volt outlets. This is why you would need an adapter and a voltage converter.

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Travel Adapter

travel adapter

This is a universal travel adapter. It will cost you anywhere from $15-$25 and is essential for using outlets in many countries. Check out this list to find out which countries use which outlets so you can be prepared before you leave. Usually, a universal adapter will be sufficient, and sometimes you won’t even need an adapter. Remember, an adapter is simply an adapter, not a converter.

Voltage Converter

voltage converter

If you want to bring your hairdryer or electric razor from the States but don’t want to fry it on the first use, you may need a voltage converter like the one pictured here. Click here to view the voltage levels for outlets across the world. If your destination country uses a higher voltage than the US, be aware that this will affect electronics like hairdryers and razors.

Many electronics are equipped with their own converters. For example, the white box on the plug of your Apple products functions as a converter, so you can simply plug it into an adapter and worry not about the voltage. Most battery chargers are also ready for a range of voltage.

Related: The Best Travel Hair Dryer

If you aren’t sure whether or not your device has a converter, look for the tiny print that will tell you the voltage range. My iPhone charger says its range is 100v-240v. Therefore I know I can plug it into any outlet up to 240v and it will work. I do not carry a converter with me when I travel to Europe because all of my electronics are equipped with converters. If you aren’t sure and want to be safe, a voltage converter should only set you back about $20.

Ladies, when it comes to hairdryers specifically, there are other options for avoiding voltage problems. You could wait until you arrive at your destination country and purchase one there if you plan to be there for long enough to make it worth it. Or, nowadays you can find dual voltage hair dryers that have a simple switch on them for you to control the voltage. These seem to work just fine with a regular travel adapter. Both times I lived in Europe, I used hairdryers that I bought once I got there, so I never needed to use a converter.

Know anyone headed to a country where a universal travel adapter or voltage converter is necessary These make great gifts!

Related: Gifts for Travelers: 15 Useful Items for Any Type of Traveler