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Attempting to understand the difference between travel adaptors, converters, and voltage conversion is confusing. Read this easy guide for a simplified explanation.
Understanding Travel Adapters and Voltage
There are two very important things you need to know about traveling with electronics. First, the plug you use at home may not work in a wall socket when traveling because different countries have different plug shapes.
Second, you can’t use some of your electronics while traveling unless they’re dual voltage because countries such as the USA and Canada have 120V electricity while destinations in Europe have 220V electricity.
One reader sums up the difference perfectly: “In simple terms, the adapter makes your device fit in the holes. The converter changes the electric power going into it.” Just remember that they’re two different devices (there’s no such thing as a travel adapter converter!) This is when you need to know the difference between adapter and converter. Here, we explain the popular adapter vs converter question.
Here’s a quick guide on Travel Adaptors, Converters and Voltage:
- What is voltage?
- What is dual voltage?
- What is a travel adapter?
- How do adapters work?
- What is a converter?
- Traveling with hair dryer or straightener
- Traveling with laptop or tablet
Best Travel Adapter with USB Ports: International Power Plug Converter
What is voltage?
Voltage refers to electricity; different countries have different types of electricity, meaning you need to consider voltage conversion. This means that your electronics are the same voltage as the country in which you bought them so if you take them to another country, they may not work.
If you plug a 120V device into a wall socket that’s meant for 220V (or vice versa) you will blow out a fuse in your device and possibly also the building.
Your hair tools such as blow dryers, wands, curling irons and straighteners use up a large amount of electricity so it’s particularly important that they are used with the correct voltage.
In order to travel with your electronics (and hair tools) you need two things: for the item to be dual voltage and you’ll also need to use a travel adapter so your plug can fit into the sockets in another country. Or, you need a voltage converter, which we’ll talk about later.
Visit this website for a full list of voltage by country.
Best Dual Voltage Hair Straightener: BaBylissPRO Nano Titanium Mini Straightening Iron
What is dual voltage?
Some electronics are designed so they can be used in different countries. This means they’ll be labeled as ‘dual-voltage’. Dual voltage electronics have two options: 110-120V and 220-240V. They are ideal for travel because they are safe to use at home and abroad, too.
Some electronics, such as newer Macbooks and iPhones have dual voltage that automatically adjust in their destination. However, you may need to adjust the voltage manually by moving an external switch in certain items such as hair tools.
If your device isn’t dual voltage, you’re better off leaving it at home. However, most modern devices such as phones and laptops already have a dual voltage capability built in.
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What is a travel adapter?
A travel adapter (sometimes called a travel plug converter) enables you to plug your electronics into walls with different sockets than the one used by your country. Not all countries use the same type of plug so I recommend you buy an international adapter.
The US uses a plug with two flat vertical prongs whereas the UK uses a plug with one top vertical prong and two bottom horizontal prongs. You need a travel adapter so your plug fits into the socket of a different country.
Best Travel Adapter with Multiple Power Ports: Poweradd Travel Power Adapter Kits
You can buy individual travel adapters for each country you plan to visit, or you can just buy one international travel adapter that will work for most parts of the world.
It’s important to note that people tend to confuse the term “travel adapter” and “travel converter” but these are not the same thing.
Visit this power outlet guide for travelers to see a full list of plugs and outlets by country.
Travel Adapter for USB Only: USB Wall Plug Travel Adapter
How do adapters work?
A travel power adapter or European converter adapter fits the plug into the wall socket, while travel converters change the electrical current from 120V to 220V or vice versa. The only time you’ll need an international converter is if you’re traveling with a device that is not dual voltage.
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What is a converter?
So what is a voltage converter exactly? If it’s not the same thing as a travel adapter then what is it?
If your electronics are not dual voltage, an international power converter (also called a transformer, voltage adapter, or international voltage converter) could be used. However, voltage converters tend to be large, heavy devices so they are less practical for travel. If your device isn’t dual voltage it requires a converter so it’s best to leave it at home, particularly if it’s a hair tool.
Because blow dryers and flat irons require a large amount of power, look for products with dual voltage options. Keep in mind that this does not guarantee your hair styling tool will work as well abroad as it does at home, even with the dual voltage setting.
As one reader says, “I wouldn’t recommend using a hair dryer with a travel power converter. It’s very likely you will still blow a fuse, or worse, knock out power for half the hotel! You could also fry your device by doing this.”
Another adds, “Personally, I don’t recommend a travel electric converter. I’ve seen too many devices ruined when the power voltage converter fails. Either bring items that are dual voltage or leave them at home.”
While there are some travel-friendly converters like this one, they’re usually only good for products up to 50 watts (hair tools are higher than this).
Best Dual Voltage Travel Dryer: BaBylissPRO Tourmaline Titanium Travel Dryer
Is it okay to use my hair dryer or straightener abroad?
If it’s dual voltage, yes! Because blow dryers and flat irons (straighteners) require a large amount of power, look for products with dual voltage options. Keep in mind that this not guarantee your hair styling tool will work as well abroad as it does at home, even with the dual voltage setting. Flat irons may be okay but hair dryers tend to experience more issues.
One reader says, “You definitely need a dual voltage for a hair dryer. You can use 240 volt hair tongs on 110 setting. It just takes longer but you can’t do it the other way round. A hair dryer will simply blow up and fuse the place too. My ex did that and it fused the entire chalet!”
If you don’t have a dual voltage hair dryer or straightener, consider leaving it at home. Many women prefer to just purchase hair styling tools in their destination to avoid problems. Always check with your accommodation first to see if they have one so you can avoid needing a universal adapter and converter.
Read these posts for travel hair tool recommendations:
Best Travel Adapter for Mac Laptops: Apple World Travel Adapter Kit
Is it okay to use my laptop or tablet abroad?
Check the voltage on your product. If it says 110-120V then you’ll need an outlet converter to use it (and vice versa) but a travel converter can be a large heavy object to pack. Ideally, if your item reads 100-240V, you’re good to go!
Most laptops have this type of voltage so you are usually able to use them worldwide. To be sure, check the power supply or search online to read your specific devices spec details. If not, keep in mind your converter vs adapter needs.
Remember, an adaptor like the one shown above doesn’t convert voltage, it just allows you to plug in your electronics to the local outlet. Always check the voltage of your camera and phone chargers as well.
Do you have any tips for traveling with travel adaptors or converters?
For more travel trips, please read:
- Travel Cord Organizer Options
- Bose QuietComfort 20 Headphone
- Best Reading Device for Travel
- Best Travel Product Recommendations
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