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Voltage Converters and Travel Adapters: Get the Scoop!

In a world where everything was uniform, you wouldn't have to think about things like voltage converters and plug adapters. You could travel anywhere you want and plug in your laptop charger, your hair dryer, your coffee maker or your BlackBerry without even thinking about it. The world's uniqueness extends to electricity. Unless you're traveling within your own boundaries, chances are that you're going to have to learn about voltage converters unless you want to buy a whole new raft of personal electronics when you get to your destination company. That may be a reasonable choice if you're moving overseas for an extended stay, but if you're doing a tour of Europe or the East, you don't want to buy all new 110v to 220 volts consumer electronics for a trip lasting just a few weeks.

Why Voltage Converters Are Important if You Travel

Because electricity and the electrical grid developed at different times and along different lines in the different regions of the world, the different regions developed different standards for delivering electricity. In the West, notably in most of the Americas and a few other places in the world, electricity comes from the outlet at 110 volts (110V). In most of Europe, Eastern Europe, Australia and the East, electricity is delivered from the outlet at 220 volts (220V).

Likewise, the electronic and electrical devices sold in each region are designed to use electricity delivered at the standard voltage for that region. If you try to run an 110V-120V hair dryer on a 220V-240V circuit, the higher voltage is likely to melt, fry, burn and otherwise do bad things to your hair dryer. The result isn't any prettier for the circuit - it's quite likely that you'll flip the circuit breaker, or worse in older buildings that aren't outfitted with more modern electrical wiring. The results won't be quite as bad if you plug a 220V-240V appliance into an 110V-120V circuit - most likely the appliance simply won't work because it's not getting enough juice.

Voltage converters can take the electrical juice coming from the outlet and make it stronger or weaker, depending on the kind of voltage converter you choose. There are step up voltage converters that can increase the voltage from 110V to 220V, step down voltage converters that decrease the voltage from 220V to 110V and step up and step down voltage converter/transformers that can convert the voltage in either direction. Some of those require you to select the right conversion. Others automatically detect what's coming from the wall and convert it to the power needed by the devices that you plug into them.

Why Wattage Matters

In addition to delivering electricity at the right voltage to your electronics, you have to choose voltage converters that will deliver enough watts to them to power them. It's easy to figure out how many watts your devices need. Most of them will have the wattage needed printed right on the label attached to them. It's the number followed by a W, such as 85W, which is a common wattage for a curling iron.

If the label doesn't tell you how many watts the device needs, you can easily figure it out by multiplying the voltage (110V) by the amperage, which is the number followed by an A, such as 1.5A. If your curling iron has a label that says "110V .65A", you'd get the wattage by multiplying 110 by .65 to come up with 71.5 watts. To be on the safe side, you'd want a voltage converter that is rated for 90 watts or above. You don't have to worry about buying a converter that is rated for a higher number of watts - your device will draw the number of watts it needs and no more.

Your best bet when choosing among the many voltage converters is to choose the one that gives you the most versatility. While you can get a cheap step up or step down voltage converter for less than $20, you're likely to find yourself in a situation where it's not enough. For just a few dollars more, you can find many good quality step up and step down voltage transformer/converters that can handle several hundred watts and be prepared for any electrical situation your run across.

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