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Travel Voltage Converters: The Basic Facts

Going on your dream vacation? Taking a business trip to Europe? If you're planning to travel overseas and want to bring along your personal electrical devices - your electric shaver, hair dryer or curling iron, for example - you'll probably have to make friends with voltage converters. Voltage converters do precisely what their name says - the change the voltage, or power, of electrical current from one strength to another. This is important if you're traveling in countries that have different electrical current standards than your own. Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about electricity, power outlets, current and voltage converters if you want to use your own electrical appliances safely overseas.

Voltage Differences

North America and parts of Central and South America use electricity at 110 volts, usually written as 110V. While most homes have one or two 220V outlets, normal household current is 110V. Appliances bought and sold in these countries are built to operate on electrical current delivered at 110V.

Most European countries, Australia and many Eastern countries use electricity at 220V, and the appliances and electrical devices sold in those countries are designed to require electricity at 220V to operate.

All is well and good as long as you plug appliances and electrical devices built to use one voltage into outlets that deliver electricity at that voltage. If you try to use an electrical device designed to run on 220V of electricity into an 110V outlet or vice versa, however, you're going to run into problems. At the very least, your hair dryer, coffee maker or electric shaver simply won't work. More likely, though, you'll be rewarded with a short circuit that destroys your electrical device and may blow the electrical circuits in the house or hotel in which you're staying.

Voltage converters are the solution to the problem of differing voltages between your electrical devices and the available electrical outlets. Voltage converters can either increase the voltage of the electrical current (step up voltage converters) or decrease the voltage of the electrical current (step down voltage converters). Some of the better quality models can either increase or decrease the voltage. These step up and step down voltage converter/transformers often detect the correct voltage and convert automatically so that you don't even have to think about it.

In general, you simply plug your voltage converter into the wall and plug your appliances into the converter. Most voltage converters will allow you to plug in two or more items, but it's important that you don't overload the capacity of the converter. That means that you have to be aware of how many watts of power you're plugging into the converter, as well as how many watts the voltage converter is rated for. Your voltage converter should be rated to handle at least 25% more watts than the equipment you intend to plug into it.

For example, if you want to plug a 1,800-watt hair dryer and a 100-watt curling iron into the voltage converter at the same time, you'll need a voltage converter that is rated for at least 2,400 watts. More wattage is better - you'll never have a problem if your voltage converter is rated for more watts than your devices actually use, but if you don't have enough wattage, you're likely to blow a circuit.

In addition to voltage converters, you should also pack a plug adapter kit to ensure that you'll have the right kind of plug to plug your converter into the wall. As long as you have the right voltage converter and plug adapters with you, you should be able to use your personal electronics wherever you go.

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