Travel Tips Tuesday: World Travel Adaptor or Power Converter?

One of my first trips abroad as a high school student was to Europe with a group. After a few days exploring London and Paris (and many rolls of film later), my camera was out of battery power. Fortunately I had a huge travel converter and plug adaptor with me, so I was able to succeed in my quest to take more photographs of famous architecture than anyone else in my group!

What is the difference between an adaptor and a converter?

An adaptor changes the shape of your plug so it fits in the wall socket. A converter adjusts the voltage.

Depending on the country you are in, you may encounter outlets of different shapes, and different voltage levels. In Europe, the voltage is often near 240-volts, while in the US it is usually only 110-volts.

The adaptor is the name of the small piece of metal and plastic that changes the shape of your plug. The different shapes of plugs are sorted by letter. Whether you encounter plugs with three squares in London (type G socket), two round prongs (type C) in Europe, or the more familiar American double flat style (that’s a type A socket, while the type of plug that your computer charger might use, with two flat plugs and a round third plug is a type B socket), an adaptor will enable your plug to fit nicely wherever you are travelling. Never try to jam your plug into a socket.



The convertor actually changes the voltage. If you have ever heard stories of hairdryers blowing the power out in a hotel, that’s because there was no convertor. The converter uses resistors to make the voltage coming from the wall match the voltage level your appliance or gadget needs.

Do I even need an adaptor or converter when I travel now?

On my first trip I needed both my plug adaptor and voltage converter, but today I find travelling with a convertor has become optional. Most of my devices and chargers are able to work up above the 240 voltage I encounter in most countries. Hairdryers often don’t fall into this category, but lucky for me I don’t use one. (And many hotels have hair dryers for you to use).Power-Lines

Most electronic devices come with instructions on what to do about different voltage levels – check the backside of the device to see how it is rated. More often than not, your charger is already its own convertor. For example your iPod and laptop charger more than likely will work anywhere with a stable current: you’ll just need an adaptor to make the plugs fit.

I travel with a USB multi-plug adaptor. It can fit into plugs in any country and it has two USB ports so I can charge my laptop, phone, and back-up battery all at once. If you’d prefer to carry an adaptor for just one type of plug, check out the common shapes of outlet plugs around the world.

Before you travel, remember to read the fine print on your charger and carry a small adaptor kit with you wherever you go. You and your electronics will be ready for anything!

– Adam