Travel Tech - Power

Unfortunately there is no standard for electrical supply around the world.  Often times the standard is country specific, in other situations it can region specific.  It is best to know before you travel what the electrical specifications are going to be in the areas you will be visiting, and to be prepared with the correct converters, transformers, and adapters before you leave home as they may be difficult to obtain in some remote or less developed areas.  A good place to start is Voltage Valet, a directory of foreign electrical requirements.


First, the obvious, the plug. There are many different types of plugs in the world. It’s a good chance wherever you are traveling outside of the USA will have different plugs. Go to a hardware or travel shop and buy yourself a plug adapter for the country you are traveling to. If you are traveling to a smaller less popular or less sophisticated country you definitely want to do this before you travel.  Plug adapters can be hard to find in smaller less traveled countries, and the cost can be much higher that you would pay back at home.

Some places sell super multi-converting plugs that twist and change pocketknife style to convert from many plug types to many other plug types. These are usually bulky and can have a habit of falling out of the wall in countries with not so sturdy plug types (e.g.: USA). However they are a blessing if you are traveling to many places in one trip. Make sure that if your device uses the third plug pin that the plug adapter also has a third pin.

Voltage & Current

You don’t need to know what voltage or current are, you just need to know that your electrical device is rated to be used at the voltages and currents supplied by the country you are in. This should be written on the device you are using or in many cases the power adapter for your device (the small, usually black box that is between the device and the plug that gets warm). Here is an example of what will be written and how to interpret it:

Input: AC 100-240V 50-60Hz

If your device says this, and many do, you are in luck. Your device supports just about all voltages and currents. The “AC” means that it requires Alternating Current. It is rare for power not to be AC. “100-240V” means that your device will operate within the voltage range of 100 Volts and 240 Volts. That covers just about all countries. If your device had said “120V” then you would be restricted to 120 Volt countries, such as the United States or Canada. There is margin for error – but it’s small, you certainly couldn’t go to a country such as the France where the norm is “220V”. “50-60Hz” means that your device will operate with power supplies that provide a current of between 50 and 60 Hertz. Most devices operate within this range.

To adapt, convert or transform?

In the above example where the Input supports AC 100-240V 50-60Hz you will only need a plug adapter for the country you are visiting.  Most newer cameras, computers and cell phones fall in this category.  Apple even sells a world traveler kit for their products that includes adapters that slide on and off the charging blocks replacing the one shipped for US models.

Converters are for single volt electric products with simple heating devices such as garment steamers, irons, curling irons, etc. These products are generally used for short periods of time. Step-down converters convert 220/250V foreign electricity down to 110/125V domestic electricity by cutting the number of volts flowing into the appliance in half.

Transformers are for single volt appliances with electronic circuitry (computer chips or integrated circuits) such as computers, fax machines, answering machines, T.V.'s, power tools, cameras, phones, etc. Like converters, transformers can either step-down the voltage or step-up the voltage. Do not use a converter with these products.

The best adapter device to purchase is one that has a dual setting, like the Combination Converter and Adaptor Plug kit Item #EA247 from Magellan’s online travel store.  The low setting is used for charging batteries, like your laptop, camera, and cell phone.  Use the high setting to power things like a hair dryer or curling iron.

When I am traveling I like to bring along a small power strip for the country I am visiting.  I usually find that power outlets are not as plentiful when traveling outside of the USA and having a power strip to plug my camera battery charger, laptop charger and cell phone charger is very convenient.  This is also a great thing to do when on a cruise ship, even though the plugs will most likely be standard US plugs I find that most cabins only have one or two outlets, and even then they can be hard to access.

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