Basics of Traveling with Electrical Items
Electricity is electricity is electricity right? When it comes to travel – WRONG!
Electricity itself is one of the fundamental forces of nature, but the way it is generated and delivered around the world is done very differently. It’s all about Alternating Current, Sine Waves, Frequencies– Boring! So what do you really need to know about electricity when it comes to travel?
In a nutshell, if you are going somewhere from the Equator and Up in North America and the Caribbean- electrical outlets are the same as in the U.S. and you can use your electrical devices like you were at home. If you are going anywhere outside the confines of North and Central America, you will likely need some form of adapter or converter. (But of course there are always exceptions to these rules of thumb, for example if you travel to Taiwan it will be just like home!)
So first thing’s first- what is an adapter and what is a converter? An adapter is a small passive device that simply allows the electrical plug prongs to match up with the holes in the outlets of your destination country. It simply adapts the prong size and shape- it does not change the voltage! A converter is an electrical device that changes the voltage for example from 220V to 110V. It may or may not adapt the prong configuration in the process.
Generally most modern consumer electronics devices that a traveler would be carrying (phone chargers, laptop power supplies, camera chargers) work on global voltages and simply need an inexpensive adaptor to match the American style prongs to the outlets found elsewhere in the world.
Most electrical items that use heaters, motors, or fans (hair dryers, flattening irons, curling irons, etc.) are built for 110V only, and will need a converter to be used while traveling. It is rare that these types of devices accept dual voltages- if they do, there may be a small switch on the cord or the handle that says 110V on one side and 220V or 250V on the other.
You can find detailed information about the outlet pin configuration and voltages at www.electricaloutlet.info. Scroll down the page to locate your destination country and you can see what the plugs look like, the type of adaptor needed, and the voltage. A search such as “Type C Adapter” or “Travel Voltage Converter” on Amazon or other retailers will yield the items you need.
A few things I have learned in my travels…
- If your style is to travel to one country at a time and you lean towards lightweight and backpacker-style travel, I suggest purchasing separate adapters for the countries you will be visiting. The “all-in-one”, “universal” adapters are heavy, bulky, and take the fun out of building your adapter collection. If you are doing one large multi-country trip then a universal style adapter may be the right thing for you.
- I recommend spending the money for good quality adapters and converters. Nothing is more frustrating than an adapter that is loose, wobbly, rickety, or that breaks while in your bag. Be smart and get good quality products while you are buying them.
- Be sure that you have a way to plug multiple devices into one outlet. In many countries, there are no codes that require the abundance of electrical outlets that you find in a typical American home or hotel. It’s entirely possible you will only have access to one electrical outlet. (And in many countries they are not two-for-one either.) Adapters can be found that allow items to be plugged into different sides of them, or you could bring your own splitter or extension cord to allow multiple devices to be charged simultaneously.
- Lastly, DO A DRY RUN with all of your electrical devices and your adapters and converters to make sure you can plug in as many devices as you need simultaneously, and that everything fits snugly. Don’t just assume everything will fit!
Well, that should be enough food for thought for now- I will do a separate blog later with some of the technical details of world power and voltage for those of you who are interested.