So, you’ve booked your trip abroad – fabulous! Time to start building that packing list. On that list, invariably, will be at least some items that require power to either run or charge. Phones, hair appliances, laptops, cameras, you name it, you’ll need a power source eventually. When you’re dealing with an international destination, you will almost always need either a power adapter or converter (or both!) in your travel kit. Here’s everything you need to know about power converters vs. adapters for travel.
What’s The Difference Between a Power Converters vs. Adapters For Travel?
Let’s start with the basics. For those dipping their toes in for the first time, they might not know that there’s a difference between these two, but in reality, their functions couldn’t be any more different.
What’s a Power Converter?
A power converter is a device that changes the voltage from the outlet to a safe level for your devices. If you’ve ever heard of someone’s curling iron frying in a foreign country, not using a power converter, or one with not enough wattage is the likely culprit. Most devices are built for the specific power input level that exists in the country they’re sold in. Outlets in North America, Japan, and parts of South America and the Caribbean put out voltage somewhere between 100 – 125 volts, while the vast majority of the rest of the world uses between 220 and 240 volts. Plug your American devices, built for 120 volts into an international socket delivering 220, and your device will quickly become overloaded.
What’s a Travel Adapter?
Simply put, a travel adapter is something that converts your device’s plugs into plugs that can fit in international sockets, as even if you’re working with the same voltage, the actual shape of your plugs might not be compatible. Just like American plugs, where there are grounded and ungrounded versions (that’s the three pins and two pins, respectively), the same is true internationally, so it’s important to know if the device you need to plug in requires a grounded plug, if so, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got a grounded adapter that works for your destination.
What is Dual Voltage?
You may have heard the term “dual voltage”, or maybe have seen it printed on the packaging for a device you’ve purchased. A device that’s dual voltage is, essentially, equipped to handle both the lower voltages in the 120 range, and the higher voltages in the 220 – 240 range without a converter.
Many modern travel gadgets are dual voltage, but you’ll want to know for certain before you go. Look on packaging, in the owner’s manual, and sometimes, even on the plug itself. If you see something to the tune of “INPUT AC 120 VAC 60 Hz 200 W”, that means your device is single voltage, and will require a converter in countries that put out 220 – 240 volts. Alternately, if you see something like “ INPUT AC 120/240 V 50—60 Hz 1300 W” (note the 120/240 – those are your voltages), that means your device is dual voltage, and can handle the power delivered by outlets around the globe.
So – What Do I Need For My Trip?
Start by doing a little research into where you’re going. What’s their voltage? What are their plug configurations? If you’re going to a place with a different plug configuration, you’ll need travel adapters. Travel adapters aside, you’ll then need to figure out if you potentially need a power converter. Once you’ve determined the power situation in your destination, take an inventory of the devices you’re planning to bring. Check on everything to see if it’s single or dual voltage to determine if you’ll need both a power converter and travel adapters, or if you’ll be fine with just travel adapters.
If you do need a power converter, you’ll want to take into consideration which devices, specifically, you’re planning on bringing. For small electronic, non-heating devices (electric razors, etc.), you should be fine with a 50 watt power converter, but if you’re bringing along anything that produces heat, or requires higher wattage (i.e. Curling irons, cPAP machines, hair dryers, travel irons, etc.), you’ll want to look for a converter that can handle up to 2,000 watts. Not having a converter with high enough wattage is why you’ll hear stories of people frying their devices even with a converter.
Note that 2000 watt converters are step DOWN converters – not step up converters. They only work from 220 – 110 volts, not the other way around, so North Americans are out of luck. Step up converters do exist but they are quite heavy, pricey, and bulky. You’re almost certainly better off finding a dual voltage appliance instead of investing in one of these. My go to? My trusty GHD flat iron, curling iron, and hair dryer have been lugged around this world in checked bags for years. They’re on the pricier side, but if the abuse mine have endured while remaining in basically like-new condition, is any indication, they are a very worthy investment for a traveler.
What Power Converters and Travel Adapters to Buy
I strongly recommend that you pick up whatever you need before you hit the road. While you might be able to pick up what you need abroad, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have adapters that fit your home country’s plugs, and if they do, they might be quite a bit more expensive. Places like Target, Walmart, Brookstone, and Amazon will have them easily available.
Once you’ve taken inventory of the devices you need to bring, see if you need grounded adapters (for American plugs, those are the three prong plugs). Chances are, if you need a grounded plug for your native sockets, you’ll need a grounded travel adapter as well.
You’ll also want to take into consideration how many devices you’ll be bringing and how often you’ll need to charge them. Bringing a bunch of camera equipment and electronics that will need to be charged frequently? Be sure to bring more than one travel adapter, so you can have multiple devices plugged in at once. They’re lightweight and relatively inexpensive, so they shouldn’t break the bank, or take up too much space in your luggage.
Power converters, on the other hand, are generally quite a bit bulkier and heavier than travel adapters, so you might want to look into an all-in-one unit that can both serve as a power converter and travel plug adapter. Some, like this one, have multiple travel adapters integrated, that can slide out to fit the country you happen to be in. Just be sure that the adapters available are exactly what you need (i.e. if you do need a grounded travel adapter, these will likely not be the right option for you).
If you plan to be in a specific country for an extended stay, and require things like a hair dryer, curling iron, coffee maker, etc. you might want to consider simply purchasing one to use in your destination country to eliminate the need to use adapters and converters on a daily basis, and if you’re going to be traveling internationally frequently, invest in devices that have dual voltage.
Best Travel Adapters and Power Converters
Best for Traveling with Hair Tools and Higher Power Electronics
The DOACE C11
Got heat tools or heavier duty electronics like a CPAP machine to pack with you? Pick up this power converter that can handle up to 2,000 watts, keeping you and your electronics safe. It fits two plugs (including a grounded plug), and has two USB ports. Plus it comes with three of the most popular travel adapters, so you’ve got everything you need here. Do note that this is a step DOWN converter. It only works going from 220 to 110v. if you’re looking for a step UP converter, you’re looking at something much more expensive and bulky. Almost certainly, it would make more sense to purchase dual-voltage appliances than to lug one of these aboard.
Buy it on Amazon – $39.00
Best When You Only Need An Adapter
When you don’t need a power converter, or all of your appliances are dual voltage, this offers plenty of charging space, plus a little stand on the top to set your phone on. This is especially great for older lodgings with limited outlet space, or charging up in a public space.
Buy it on Amazon – $34.00
Best Converter For Small Electronics
Traveling with limited space and only small, non-heating electronics? Toss this compact power converter and travel adapter-in-one in your suitcase. With 4 USB Ports, and slide out plug adapters, this will take you most of the way around the world while keeping your electronics safe, and not eating up too much of your precious packing space.
Buy it on Amazon – $20.99
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