Power Up: Adapters vs. Converters

Power Adapter Kit

I often get this question from people heading out on an international vacation: what do I need to bring with me to deal with electrical outlets in foreign countries? It’s actually a pretty simple answer: aside from an inexpensive adapter kit, probably nothing!

Electricity tends to come in two flavors, 110v or 220v and each voltage has a slew of power plug designs and orientations that correspond to a country’s specific preference. Products that actually change the voltage to make sure you don’t over or under power your products are called converters and, unless you’re bringing an unusual object on the road, you will most likely never need one of these. What you will need is an adapter, which modifies the device plug to fit a country specific outlet. You’re probably the most familiar with both of our US designs, a two prong plug where one tip is slightly bigger than the other, and the three prong design, same as the two but with the addition of a grounded post.

Most consumer US appliances and gadgets run use one of those two plug formats and run off a 110v power source, but remember that we’re part of a global economy and most things we buy are manufactured out of country and designed for multi-country use. What this means to you is that a good majority of the products you might want to bring on a trip abroad (camera battery chargers, laptops, electric razors etc) have a power supply that automatically converts power between the two voltages. An easy way to check is to look at the power cord or power supply on the unit you might want to plug in and find the voltage range. If it says ‘100-240v’ you just need to adapt your plug to the country you’re visiting.

Here's the one I use, and it hasn't failed me yet. Note that it allows for a grounded US plug, not just a two-pronged one, which will limit what you can plug into it.