WanderTip: Adapter Plugs and Converters
I’ve been traveling for so long (22 years and counting), that I sometimes take what I’ve learned for granted. I forget that not everyone has a whole closet-full of knowledge built up in terms of what they know when it comes to hitting the road.
A friend emailed me recently just days before he was leaving town for Buenos Aires. He’ll be there at least a year and plans to first study the language and then dive into some freelance writing work. He emailed because he was at a loss on which adapter plug to purchase and wanted to know if he needed an electricity converter for his laptop and other electronics.
I figured others might have similar questions so here’s a little primer.
First, there’s the matter of actually being able to plug in your electrical item into a power supply abroad. The two- or three-pronged plug that your laptop, camera or phone charger uses may very well be different than the outlet in the country you are visiting.
You’ll first need to determine which socket pattern you’ll encounter in your travels. Brick and mortar travel stores and online resources such as Magellan’s Travel Supplies and Amazon will have plenty of options for you to choose from. You might consider purchasing just one that’s appropriate only for your most immediate destination, or you can pick up a package that includes a variety, covering most (but sometimes not all) countries.
Each manufacturer has its own way of identifying which adapter will work in each country. Sometimes they are coded with a geometrical shape or icon, other times they are simply pictured in a little brochure and identified. I’ve never been steered wrong. If you ever feel like you need a little hand-holding with your purchase, however, stop into a travel or luggage store and ask an employee to help you out. An entire set should only cost you about $10-$15.
A bit more complicated is the issue of voltage and whether you need a power converter (also called a transformer). Many years ago, I blew out my Sony Discman when I plugged it into an outlet (using an adapter) without an electricity converter. Many power outlets around the world run on 220 volts (unlike in the U.S., which runs on 110). Luckily, today, many electronic products are dual voltage. This means that they can operate either on 110/120V or 220/240V. In this case you do not need a power converter.
You can easily determine whether your electronics are dual voltage by checking the device itself or the power adapter. If it is dual voltage, the unit will automatically detect the difference when plugged in and will change over accordingly. Carry a converter for any non-dual devices to places where the voltage will be different (a good guidebook will tell you what the common voltage is for your destination).
There ya have it. Really not so difficult after all but EXTREMELY important if you want to keep your camara, MP3 player and laptop in good working order!
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Photo: Bob van Martin
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