Electricity is a mystery to most of us. But even if you don’t know AC from DC or volts from watts, if you’ve traveled outside the United States, you are aware that plugs and outlets are different in other countries. In fact, there are about 15 types of electrical outlets in use throughout the world.
When you want to plug in one of your devices abroad, you’ll need an adapter, which serves as a sort of “go-between” as it plugs the appropriate prong style into the socket and your cord plugs into the external side of the adapter.
And here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. In many countries — most in fact, except for the U.S. and Canada — the electrical voltage is 220/240V. Our American devices are designed for 110/120V which is not compatible, even when correctly plugged in through an adapter. You know this first-hand if you’ve ever fried a hair dryer or curling iron while traveling. This is where the converter comes in.
A converter converts (duh!) or “steps down” the electrical voltage from the outlet to 110/120V so that American devices can be used safely. One more thing: many devices are now made “dual voltage,” enabling them to be used with both 110/120V and 220/240V. The trick is to know whether your hair dryer, charger, or flatiron fall into that category, which would allow it to be used safely with an adapter alone. If you can’t find the voltage listed on the device, check online or look at the instruction sheet it came with.
To be safe when you’re traveling with tech, it’s smart to invest in a combination adapter/converter. There are universal products that handle both functions, and we’ve rounded up five options that should help to eliminate electrical confusion while you’re on the road. As with all electronic devices, make sure to carefully read the safety instructions before using any of them and to check wattage limitations on the product you purchase before plugging in.