I answered a question earlier today that I realize could be useful to others — it’s basic stuff for the seasoned international traveler, but worth sharing for the first-timer going abroad: power adapters and converters.
A converter alters the power so that it matches the needs of your device. For instance, Europe runs on 220 volt electricity while the US is 110 volt. Most devices do not need a converter. Nearly all modern electronics are dual voltage meaning they work on both 110 and 220 volts. You do not need a converter just an adapter so you can plug them straight into the wall. This almost certainly true for your laptop and mobile phone.
On the other hand hair devices (curling irons, flat irons, hair dryers) that aren’t dual voltage [and most aren’t] will need a converter, and you need one rated for the wattage of the device you’re using.
An adapter makes your cord, shaped for US outlets, stick into a socket where the shape in other countries is different. You can by a cheap ‘universal’ adapter for ~ $10 or buy country-specific ones for ~ $3 with shipping.
The question I was asked was specific to Europe and there’s no such thing as a Europe-wide plug. This underscores that while there are just a handful of different outlet types they do vary by country and for differing historical reasons.
The UK has its own 3-prong outlets (also used in places like Hong Kong, I wonder why…). That’s different from France (2 prong, rounded) and also different from Italy. France’s is what’s usually termed ‘Europe’ though parts of Europe do use different outlets. If you’re buying country-specific adapters, make sure you have the adapter that will work where you’re traveling.
I’ve made a mistake before and used a device that required a converter, simply plugging it into the wall. I fried the (cheap) device and also blew a fuse in the room.
One thing I do that both protects my device (a little) and means I don’t need as many converters or adapters is I’ll have one, plug into the wall, and plus a compact travel power strip into them. That way I can run multiple devices off a single outlet.
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