Electricity is a mystery to most of us. But even if you don’t know AC from DC or volts from watts, if you’ve traveled outside the United States, you are aware that plugs and outlets are different in other countries. In fact, there are about 15 types of electrical outlets in use throughout the world.
When you want to plug in one of your devices abroad, you’ll need an adapter, which serves as a sort of “go-between” as it plugs the appropriate prong style into the socket and your cord plugs into the external side of the adapter.
And here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. In many countries — most in fact, except for the U.S. and Canada — the electrical voltage is 220/240V. Our American devices are designed for 110/120V which is not compatible, even when correctly plugged in through an adapter. You know this first-hand if you’ve ever fried a hair dryer or curling iron while traveling. This is where the converter comes in.
A travel power converter converts or “steps down” the electrical voltage from the outlet to 110/120V so that American devices can be used safely. One more thing: many devices are now made “dual voltage,” enabling them to be used with both 110/120V and 220/240V. The trick is to know whether your electric toothbrush, hair dryer, charger, or flatiron falls into that category, which would allow it to be used safely with an adapter alone. If you can’t find the voltage listed on the device, check online or look at the instruction sheet it came with.
To be safe when you’re traveling with tech, it’s smart to invest in a combination adapter/converter. There are universal products that handle both functions, and we’ve rounded up five options that should help to eliminate electrical confusion while you’re on the road. As with all electronic devices, make sure to carefully read the safety instructions before using any of them and to check wattage limitations on the product you purchase before plugging in.
Foval Power Step Down Voltage Converter
This pick is Amazon’s Choice for “220v to 110v converter,” which takes into account customer ratings and the ability to ship quickly. It powers four USB slots and two three-prong plugs and is slightly smaller than similar devices on our list. This one's not intended to be used with hair tools, regardless of their wattage, and make sure the total wattage of your plugged-in electronics adds up to less than 200W.
To buy: amazon.com, $37
Bestek Universal Travel Adapter and Voltage Converter
With more than 1,300 five-star reviews, the Bestek adapter/converter is often on Amazon's best-seller list in the Power Converter category. Patented technology converts the voltage to 110V to charge up to seven devices simultaneously (with a max of 250 Watts) in more than 150 countries. It comes with a five-foot power cable that's detachable for easier packing. And note, this one is not compatible with hair dryers, coffee machines, or other high-power appliances.
To buy: amazon.com, $38
Odoga Travel Adapter and Voltage Converter
While this adapter/converter is not recommended for use with heating tools like hair dryers, it will convert 220V to 110V. It also boasts four USB ports, three standard two-prong outlets, and short circuit and overheating protection. And there's even a travel case included.
To buy: amazon.com, $33
Travelon Universal 3-in-1 Adapter/Converter
Though it weighs just half an ounce, this converter/adapter is made from durable plastic and features multi-function design with worldwide capability. It is for use with electronics up to 25w. The device detects inbound voltage and converts it to 110v to power a USB port and a three-pronged plug.
To buy: ebags.com, $70
Doace 2000W Converter/Adapter Combo
This one has two modes: adapter and converter, controlled by a small switch on the side of the device. Dual-voltage appliances, like your MacBook and iPhone, should be charged in the adapter setting and converter mode is what will enable the step-down to 110v. Plus, this one is able to power basic hair dryers and styling tools as long as they have a simple on-off mechanism — nothing automatic, timer-based, or touchscreen compatible.
To buy: amazon.com, $48