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Choosing the Voltage Converters that Best Serve You

When you travel, it's like getting an education. If you travel with your favorite electrical appliances - hair dryers, electric shavers and the like - your educational experience should start with an understanding of voltage converters and other electrical devices that will make your life easier while you're on the road.

Traveling without your personal electronics and electrical grooming appliances can be like traveling without your best friends. Unfortunately, in many other countries, your hair dryers, alarm clocks, coffee makers and other electrical appliances won't work in other countries where the electrical outlets deliver power at a different voltage and frequency than they're accustomed to using. If you can't face life without your hair dryer and curling iron, even for a few weeks of vacation, you're going to have to pick up some new friends - electrical voltage converters, transformers and plug adapters.

How to Choose the Right Voltage Converters and Transformers

Before you start shopping, make sure that you actually need a voltage converter. Some newer electrical appliances are designed to convert their own power so that they don't need outside assistance.

The easiest way to tell whether your favorite electrical appliances are the strong, independent type is by reading the label on the bottom or back of your electrical item. Appliances that can use either type of power - dual voltage appliances - will have a label that says something like "100V-240V". If that's the case, you won't need a voltage converter to step down the power to it, though you will probably still need a plug adapter so that you can plug it in to the power source in other countries.

Most laptops, camcorders and battery chargers are dual voltage today, and many desktop PCs can be switched back and forth between 110V and 220V power. While there are some hair dryers, curling irons and coffee makers that have dual voltage capabilities, most will require voltage converters to work in other countries. If the voltage rating on your electronics or electrical appliance reads 110V or 120V, you'll need a step down converter/transformer in order to use it in countries that operate on 220V to 240V power. And fair warning - if you try to plug them in without using a voltage converter, you'll be putting your faithful friend to rest in a foreign grave after it incinerates itself.

Choosing the right voltage converter for your appliances can be a complicated affair. Voltage converters come in many different flavors, and it's important to choose one that works with your electronics. The most important thing to consider is the wattage you need to power your appliance. The easiest way to think of the difference between voltage and wattage is this way: voltage is what kind and wattage is how much. Once you choose the right voltage, you have to choose a voltage converter that will deliver enough of it to your appliances to power them. The wattage is especially important if you'll be plugging more than one item into your voltage converter.

Some appliance labels will make it easy for you - they'll tell you how much wattage they need to run. You'll find it right on the label where you found the voltage. It's the number followed by a W - for instance, 165W. The wattage given on the label is the amount of electrical power it needs to run right.

Other appliance labels play coy with you and hide their wattage requirements behind an amperage rating. In that case, you may see something like 1.5A on the label and you'll have to do a little math. Just multiply the voltage - 110V in most cases - by the amperage to get the wattage required. In this case, 1.5A x 110V = 165W. To power a hair dryer with a 165W rating, you'll need to choose a voltage converter that puts out at least 165 watts of power. Generally, you should use voltage converters that are rated at least 25 percent higher than the rating on your electrical items, though, so add another 45 watts to that and purchase a voltage converter with a rating of at least 200 watts. If you're going to be using electronics that spike when you first turn them on or that draw more power during certain times in their operation - laser printers and coffee makers both qualify - choose voltage converters that are at least double the wattage rating of your items.

Choosing the right voltage converters for your electrical appliances and electronics can make your overseas trips much more comfortable because you'll be able to use your favorite hair dryer, coffee maker and other electrical friends while you're abroad.

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