Travel Adapter and Voltage Converter Basics

Or, 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?

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The Two Components of Using US 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).

On the other hand, Europe has a two-prong plug with round pieces that are 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
  2. Our 110-volt hair dryers (electric razors, etc.) fry themselves when we plug them into European 230-volt outlets. This is why you need an adapter and a voltage converter.
uk to european plug adapter
c. Call Me Fred, Unsplash

Travel Adapters

The image below is an example of a universal travel adapter. It costs anywhere from $15 to $25 and is essential for using outlets in many countries. Every international traveler should own one.

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.

You might not even need an adapter, depending on where you’re going. If you’re heading to Europe, grab one like this for ease of use and extra USB ports. Remember, an adapter is simply an adapter, not a converter.

Voltage Converters

If you want to bring your hair dryer or electric razor from the US but don’t want to fry it on the first use, you may need a voltage converter like the ones pictured below.

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 instance, the white box on the plug of your Apple products functions as a converter, so you can simply plug it into an adapter and not worry about the voltage.

TIP: 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, so 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, like the one above, should only set you back about $20.

Ladies, when it comes to hairdryers specifically, there are other options for avoiding voltage problems.

Related: The Best Travel Hair Dryer

First, you could wait until you arrive at your destination country and purchase a hair dryer there. Only if you plan to be there for long enough to make it worth it, though.

Or, nowadays, you can find dual voltage hair dryers that have a simple switch on them for you to control the voltage. You can use these hair dryers at home in the United States and abroad with just an adapter.

Both times I lived in Europe, I used hair dryers that I bought once I got there, so I never needed to use a voltage converter.


If you know anyone headed to a country where a universal travel adapter or voltage converter is necessary, these make great gifts! In fact, they are included on our gift guide, Gifts for Travelers: 15 Useful Items for Any Type of Traveler.

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