Most travellers pack electronic or electrical gear. This often raises questions about what else needs to be packed to use gadgets abroad, and how to ensure they survive and not fry. Having a basic understanding of electrical issues for travellers goes a long way to helping you power up with confidence.
Understand the basics
There are plenty of resources that help travellers gain a basic understanding of the worldwide electrical system. One of my favourites is REI’s Travel Power Adapters: How to Choose. It explains the key differences between an adapter, converter and transformer and how to figure out what, if anything, you need to take with you on your travels. You’ll also learn how to decipher the electrical ratings on the manufacturer’s label on your gadgets, and what it means for using them abroad.
Organize your chargers
It’s not necessary, but tagging each removable cord with a durable label has advantages. It provides peace of mind that each cord can be quickly matched with the right gadget and you won’t unwittingly damage something by trying to insert the wrong cord into the wrong device. It also allows you to more quickly check off each charger or attachment on your packing list so none are left behind.
User guides, manuals and information sheets are available online. Having them at your disposal in a file storage system such as Dropbox comes in handy.
Decide which items to take
Scrutinize each and every gadget. Do you need your camera, or will the one on your Smartphone do? Will you use your e-reader enough to warrant packing, or can you make do with your tablet? Do you really need a hairdryer? If so, you could purchase one at your destination, but what will become of it when it’s time to move on? Perhaps it makes more sense to invest in a lightweight dual-voltage model for multiple trips.
Ear buds vs headphones
Noise-cancelling headphones serve a useful purpose, especially on long flights, but I think they consume too much space and weight to earn a place on a packing list. Not when noise-cancelling earphones perform a similar function yet are more portable. My Phiaton PS20NC in-ear earphones consume a fraction of the space and weight demands of headphones, and I use them way more than when I travelled with headphones.
Check the electricity guide for each destination
Check the power ratings in voltage (V) and frequency (Hz) of each country where you expect to use your devices. Don’t forget about the countries while in transit when you’ll likely want to recharge devices while waiting for a connecting flight. Wikipedia has a handy chart organized alphabetically by country listing voltage, frequency and plug types of each.
Check the manufacturer’s ratings on each gadget
Most electronic equipment on the market today supports the full range of voltages used throughout the globe – from 110-120 V used in North America to 220-240 V used in a host of other countries. Needless to say, always check the manufacturer’s rating for each device you plan to take. For example, this is the manufacturer’s rating label on an Olympus DSLR camera charger.
If I was taking this to Australia where the voltage and frequency are 240V and 50Hz respectively, this tells me that the camera charger’s input is rated as multi-voltage (100-240V). Therefore, it can handle both Canadian (120V 60Hz) and Australian power so a separate converter or transformer is unnecessary.
Do you need a converter?
Electrical items travellers tend to pack – hairdryers, curling irons, shavers, electric toothbrushes and travelling irons – unless they are dual voltage, don’t support the range of worldwide voltages. If it’s not an option to leave these kinds of items at home, a converter will definitely be required.
Do you need to pack an adapter?
Probably. An adapter allows a gadget’s plug from one country to fit into an outlet of another country. It doesn’t convert electricity. Look up information on plug types needed for power outlets of each country on your itinerary, including the ones in transit. Wikipedia has the chart mentioned above, and the app Plugs of the World is a handy quick reference with excellent pictures of plug types.
Universal or individual adapters? Grounded or ungrounded?
I use an adapter kit with five separate pieces, as opposed to a universal kit where the five different plug types are built into a single unit. A universal kit might be a better choice for those on a Round-The-World trip. I prefer to pack just the adapters I need. I find that individual adapters tend to fit more snugly in the wall socket or power bar than the bulkier universal varieties.
Each of my gadgets has a two-pronged plug so I use two-pronged (ungrounded) adapters. During my years in the workforce when I would often take my laptop abroad for work-related projects, I used a three-pronged (grounded) adapter to accommodate the three-pronged plug on my laptop. I would do the same today if I travelled with a laptop and pack one of each – both a grounded and ungrounded adapter.
Consider charging aids that do double duty
The Lenmar ACUSB4 is rated as multi-voltage (100-240V), so it increases options for charging gadgets via USB. For example, on a trip to New Zealand, there was just one outlet in our rented camper van and even with a four-plug power bar there was lots of competition each evening to charge the various gadgets within our three-person group. With the ACUSB4, it’s possible to charge up to four devices off the one wall socket (I’ve charged my Kindle, iPhone and iPad simultaneously with good results).
Finally, an old learning moment
A few decades ago, I took a Waterpik to Australia from Canada. Why pack a Waterpik you may ask??? Following jaw surgery, my spouse had a considerable amount of metal in his mouth and a Waterpik helped keep things clean. It was an era before ready access to the Internet and we couldn’t easily find out if we could purchase one there. On arrival, we plugged it in with the help of an Australian adapter and after some smoke and a few sparks that was the end of it. The 240 volts of Australian power were just too much for our 110 volt-rated Canadian appliance. We hadn’t done our research and packed a converter. Thankfully, that lesson was a relatively inexpensive one.
Avoid having any of your gadgets meet a similar fate as that long-deceased Waterpik. Develop a little electrical know-how and ensure you pack what’s needed to power up with confidence. If unsure, leave your valuable gadgets at home.
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