Imagine this scenario: You’ve discovered a pot of gold at the end of your driveway and can now afford your dream trip. You plan to visit Canada, Scandinavia, China, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and New Zealand.
Question: Which will you need to pack more of — shoes or adapters?
Answer: Shoes. You can’t scale the Great Wall in your tango heels, but you can use one plug in all those destinations.
The world’s outlets have basically remained unchanged since homo sapiens first flipped the switch over a century ago. Socket meets plug; they hook up and create a spark. Travelers, meanwhile, have evolved. We no longer traipse around the globe weighted down by multiple adapters and converters. We have flown the nest of cords and plastic bits.
The first accessory to go: the converter. Previously, travelers needed a converter to synchronize their single-voltage Made in America item (hair dryer, curling iron, etc.) with the foreign country’s high-wattage outlet. Without it, prepare for a potential meltdown. Today, most smart-gadgets and beauty products are dual-voltage and can handle a range of current strengths.
“Almost all gadgets now run on 110-220 volts and can adapt to different kinds of voltage,” said Sascha Segan, PCMag.com’s lead mobile analyst, by e-mail from Seoul. “You can easily buy travel haircare devices that work on both voltages.”
How do you know whether you need a converter? Check the manufacturer’s label. If the tag has a single voltage number (110 or 120 volts), you do; if you see a combined low/high number (120/240 volts or 100/240 volts) or digits of 200 or higher, you don’t.
Unlike the converter, the adapter is essential, regardless of the device. The plastic nub bridges the design divide between the U.S. plug and the foreign socket. With it, you can use your three-pronged hair straightener in a two-holed outlet. Without it, you are stuck with curly hair in Paris or Bangkok.
Adapters are sold in myriad forms. You can purchase singlets for a specific country (Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom) or a multi-destination model. The superhero of adapters is the four-in-one, a quartet of plugs that accommodates outlets in North America, continental Europe, the United Kingdom and the South Pacific/Australia. It covers about 150 countries, including some former colonial nations, such as Hong Kong, Zambia and Kenya, where the U.K. outlet still reigns.
“India has a mix of European and South African plugs, and China has a mix of European, U.S. and Australian,” said Segan. “But most Chinese sockets take American plugs, and most Indian sockets take European plugs.”
The mega-adapter is a staple for such peripatetic travelers as Lee Abbamonte, who claims to be the youngest American (35 years old) to have visited every country in the world. Abbamonte always packs a universal adapter, but he warns of outliers. South Africa, for one, features a socket shape not found elsewhere on the map. (For a list, check Magellan’s online Guide to World Electrical Connections.)
For the greatest outlet possibilities, consider purchasing a wider world set. Magellan’s sells a drawstring pouch filled with 13 adapters. Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit includes a USB power adapter, a USB cable connector and six plugs suited for North America, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Korea, Australia and Hong Kong.
Adventurers who travel with a small arsenal of gadgets or rely heavily on their devices pack supplemental power-source boosters. Abbamonte’s security blanket is the Mophie, a rechargeable battery case that extends a device’s unplugged life by many hours. Segan relies on a USB backup battery and Powerstick’s PowerTrip, a charger that can draw energy from a wall socket, a USB port and the sun (via solar panels). To charge several gadgets simultaneously, he throws into his luggage a Wonpro universal power strip that comes with detachable cords tipped with different adapters.
“Hotel rooms often don’t have enough outlets for the gadgets I carry, or the outlets aren’t in convenient places,” he said. “The ability to suddenly summon six outlets at once, and to mix U.S. and foreign gadgets on the same strip, is invaluable.”
Of course, even the most alpha traveler can find herself in a jam, with a dormant gadget and no juicer to revive it. If this happens, simply inquire at the hotel front desk. Many international properties keep a small pile of adapters and chargers that past American guests forgot to take home.