You've renewed your passport, bought your plane tickets and researched your destination — now it's time to prepare for the little details of traveling overseas. One is making sure you have the right equipment needed to use electrical appliances you're bringing on your trip.
All electrical sockets are not created equal; if you are going to use appliances overseas, you need to know what type of voltage is used in the country you're traveling to and what type of adapter or plug is needed to plug your appliances into the outlet. Otherwise, you may end up with an overheated curling iron (just imagine what this would do to your hair!) or a broken laptop computer.
Do I need electrical appliances?
The first thing to consider is whether you actually need to bring electrical appliances with you at all. Given the complexities of safely using your electrical appliances overseas, your best bet is to just leave them at home altogether — you probably don't really need them, and they're often more trouble than they're worth when traveling. Most hotels offer hair dryers and irons so you don't have to bring your own, and you can easily use manual razors and toothbrushes instead of their electric counterparts.
If you plan on staying in one country for a while, you might want to buy a hair dryer or electric razor there. Battery-operated appliances are another option if you're willing to bring plenty of replacements.
Your best bet may be to buy travel-size dual-voltage appliances that can run on both 110-volt and 220-volt currents. Make sure the switch is on the proper voltage for the country you are in before using the appliance. You will also need to carry adapter plugs with you to fit the outlets in the countries you're visiting.
However, if you're bringing something you just can't live without — like a laptop, for instance — read on for tips on what equipment you'll need to make your appliance work safely overseas.
Most American-made electrical appliances work at 110 volts. While Japan, most of North America, and parts of South America and the Caribbean use voltage between 100 and 125, the vast majority of the world uses 220 - 240 volts. For a complete list of voltage requirements by country, visit Current Solutions.
Be sure to check the label and/or owner's manual on your appliance before buying a converter, as it might be designed to work at both 110 and 220 volts — particularly if it's a newer laptop. If so, you'll probably only need a plug adapter (see below for more details). If your appliance only operates at 110 volts, you'll need to buy a voltage converter. Small electronics, razors and non-heating appliances will need a 50-watt converter. Heating appliances such as dryers, irons, coffee makers and other high-powered electrical appliances need a 1600-watt converter. You can also purchase combination converters for both types. Check the label on your electrical appliance to find its wattage.
To further complicate matters, some electronics are designed for 60-cycles-per-second electricity and cannot tolerate the 50-cycles-per-second electricity found in many countries. Most modern appliances will work on both frequencies, but check your label or owner's manual to be sure; otherwise, you run the risk of blowing a fuse in your hotel or burning out your appliance even if you have the right voltage converter. Be aware that clocks and appliances that rely on timers may not keep time correctly when operating at 50 hertz.
Even if two countries operate on the same voltage, their outlets might not take the same shape of plug — and that's where an adapter comes in. An adapter will allow you only to plug your appliance into another type of outlet — not change the electrical voltage.
To see what kind of adapter you'll need for your destination, check out the Electrical Connection Wizard at Magellan's.
Travel stores often sell convenient and inexpensive kits with five different-sized adapters that will work with nearly any outlet in the world. Note that these often won't work for appliances that need to be grounded, which will require a more expensive grounding adapter.
Where to buy adapters and converters
Converters and sets of adapter plugs are available at most travel/luggage stores and at electronic stores like Best Buy and Radio Shack. A set of adapter plugs will cost around $15 - $20, and in some stores you can buy an individual adapter for just a few dollars. If you are having trouble locating the converter or adapter that you need, try calling Magellan's at 1-800-962-4943.