Today, we’re covering a common question asked by international travelers: “What’s the difference between a travel adapter and voltage converter?”

I remember the first time I went overseas, I wrestled with this question. To me, they seemed to be the same thing. Though when I looked online, the prices varied dramatically between a travel adapter and voltage converter. So, today we’re going to break it down.

Travel Adapters

First off, let’s discuss adapters. Adapters come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from all-in-one units to kits for different plug sizes. They are also fairly inexpensive. Basically, all that an adapter does is allow you to plug your current device into another plug.

From a technical standpoint, your device is receiving the actual voltage from the electrical plug. In general, that means a voltage anywhere from 100 to 240 volts at 50-60 Hz frequency. For example, in North America, our typical electric plugs run at 120 volts at 60 Hz. However, in the UK, the electrical plugs run at 230 volts at 50 Hz.

Below are a few travel adapter sets that we recommend:

Voltage Converters

A converter, on the other hand, converts the voltage and frequency from your destination’s electrical plug to your normal power supply voltage and frequency. They are more expensive than adapters and generally start around $40. They also tend to be larger and more clunky since the units are actually processing the electrical current.

Tavel Adapter and Voltage Converter: Why Does it Matter?

If your device is rated to run at 120 volts and you connect it at 230 volts, you could overload and fry your device. Luckily, most electronic device chargers are rated to handle a range of power. You can generally see the range listed on your charger, so it’s worth checking them out when packing for your trip. I personally haven’t seen a phone, computer, or camera in the last ten years that isn’t able to accept the various voltages around the world.

However, certain household devices are notorious for causing overloads and burnouts. These include hair dryers and hair curlers. These are typically electrical devices that function more like small appliances. These devices are sensitive and have to be plugged into the rated power supply. I’ve heard horror stories of hair dryers and electrical plugs burning up because of this mismatch!

Tips for Traveling

For most travelers, you can probably do not need a converter when traveling. However, if you’re carrying a device that is sensitive to different voltages (e.g., hair dryer), here are your options:

1. Buy a converter

There are a ton out there, but our personal favorites are:

Most come with adapters as well, so you won’t need to purchase those in addition to the converter.

2. Buy a travel version of the device that accepts multiple voltages

For example, in the case of hair dryers, most of the manufacturers offer a travel version that can accept different voltages.

3. Call your lodging in advance and arrange to borrow one

This is can be a bit of a pain, but you can often use Skype or another online service to make a cheap international call. Also, we did a quick tip video on “Calling International Numbers”, so check it out if you need help with dialing internationally.

Keep in mind that it is not always customary for hostels (and even some smaller hotels) to have hair dryers in the room. Don’t be surprised if they don’t have one available to use.

4. Buy one at your destination

This is definitely a last resort, but is always an option if all else fails! This way, you can get a device that is rated for the local voltage and frequency.

Have you ever had any issues with charging or using your electronic devices while traveling? Or do you have a preference for using a travel adapter or voltage converter? If so, please share your story in the comment section.

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