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Tips for Travelers: Choosing the Best Voltage Converters

If you want to bring some of your home comforts along when you travel, you may find yourself shopping for voltage converters. In North America, some of Central and South America, the Caribbean and parts of the Asian Pacific, we use 110V power at 60Hz. Most of the rest of the world powers its electrical appliances and personal electronics with electricity delivered at 220V/50Hz. The appliances and electronics sold in each country and region are designed to operate at the standard electrical power for that region, and won't operate if you try to plug it into an outlet with the higher or lower voltage. In other words, if you try to plug in your U.S.-bought electric hair dryer into an outlet in Italy, you're likely to fry your hair dryer, and you may short out the entire house.

In addition to the voltage, electrical standards also differ in the frequency. The U.S. uses 60 Hz, while the UK and much of Europe and other countries use 50 Hz. Most electrical appliances and electronics won't have a problem with the cycle difference because they convert AC voltage to DC voltage internally, but some electrical items may have a problem operating on the slower cycle. Clocks, for example, or electrical items with clocks, may keep the wrong time since they're often dependent on the cycle to keep time. Other electrical products that may be affected by the difference in cycles include espresso makers and turntables, which may require voltage converters that operate on multiple frequencies.

Finally, nearly every country has a different configuration for its electrical outlets. In fact, some countries have multiple plug configurations, including older configurations that are in the process of being upgraded. The standard U.S. plug with its flat prongs won't fit into the outlets in most of the countries you'll visit. In order to use your U.S. electrical appliances and electronics in other countries, you will probably need a variety of plug adapters to be sure that you'll be able to plug your electrical items into the power outlets.

A Down and Dirty Guide to Voltage Converters and Transformers

Voltage converters and transformers can only be used to convert voltage. They do not convert frequency cycles. A step down voltage converter/transformer will convert 220V power to 110V so that you can use your U.S.-bought electrical appliances in 220V countries. A step up voltage converter/transformer will convert 110V power to 220V power so that you can use European appliances in the U.S. A step up and step down voltage transformer/converter will work in either direction. Some of the cheaper models require that you manually set them to the right settings, but most step up and step down voltage converters will automatically sense the power from the outlet and the power needed by the appliance and automatically set itself.

If you're traveling overseas and planning to take your electrical items with you - from electric shavers to coffee makers and iPods to hair dryers - chances are that you'll need to shop for voltage converters and plug adapters so that you can use them on your trip. You're much better off purchasing what you need before your trip than paying a premium for them when you reach your destination.

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