How to Charge Your Electronic Devices on an Overseas Vacation

Plan Ahead to Stay (Em)powered When You Travel

phone charger
jaykz / Getty Images

The practicalities of planning a trip to another country can be daunting. Even a simple task such as charging your cell phone or tablet raises questions. Do you need an adapter or a converter? Does your device support dual voltage? Does it really make a difference? Advance planning can help you keep your electronic devices charged and ready for use when you travel overseas.

Pack Only the Devices You Really Need

Take a few moments to review the capabilities of your mobile devices and the costs to use them in another country before you decide to ​allow them space in your luggage. Contact your service provider and ask if you do not know the cost to use your cell phone or table in your destination country. Bring only those devices you use regularly. This minimizes your charging time and keeps potential data roaming charges down. If one device, such as a tablet, can perform all of the functions you expect to need on your trip, bring that device and leave the rest at home.

For example, you can make FaceTime or Skype calls on a tablet and use the tablet to edit Office documents, so it can stand in for both your cell phone and your laptop.

Determine Whether You Need an Adapter or Converter

Some travelers assume they need expensive voltage converters to charge their electronic devices outside of the United States. In reality, most laptop computers, tablets, cell phones, and camera battery chargers operate in a range between 100 volts and 240 volts, covering the standards found in the US and Canada plus Europe and many other parts of the world. Most also work with electric frequencies ranging from 50 Hertz to 60 Hertz. In fact, many electronic devices can be damaged or destroyed by voltage converters.

To determine whether your electronic device supports dual voltages or not, you need to read the tiny words written on the bottom of your device or charger. You may need a magnifying glass to see the print. Dual voltage chargers say something such as "Input 100 – 240V, 50 – 60 Hz." If your device indeed operates on both standard voltages, you may need only a plug adapter to use it, not a voltage converter.

If you find you do need to convert the voltage to use your electronic device while you travel, make sure to use a converter classified as a transformer for electronic devices, which operate with circuits or chips. Simpler (and usually less expensive) converters do not work with these more complicated devices.

Obtain the Correct Power Adapters

Each country determines its own electrical distribution system and type of electrical outlet. In the United States, for example, two-pronged plugs are the standard, although three-pronged grounded plugs are also common. In Italy, most outlets take plugs with two round prongs, although bathrooms often have three-pronged (round prongs, all in a row) grounded outlets. Buy a multi-country universal plug adapter for versatility or research the types of plug adapters commonly needed for your destination country and bring those.

You should bring several adapters or one adapter with a multi-port power strip if you plan to charge more than one electronic device per day as each adapter can power only one device at a time. Your hotel room may only have a few electrical outlets. Some outlets may be in better condition than others, and some may be grounded outlets rather than standard ones. You may even need to plug one adapter into another in order to use it. Some adapters include USB ports, which can come in handy when you charge electronic devices.

Test Your Setup Before You Leave Home

Obviously, you can't plug adapters into an outlet located thousands of miles away, but you can determine which electronic device plugs fit into your collection of adapters. Be sure the plug fits snugly into the adapter; a floppy fit can cause current flow problems when you try to charge your electronic device.

Note that many hairdryers, curling irons, electric razors, and other personal care appliances manufactured for use in the US can convert between voltages with the flip of a switch located on the appliance. Make sure you move the switch to the correct position before you plug the appliance into the outlet. Heat-producing appliances such as hair dryers also require higher wattage settings to operate.

If, despite your planning and testing, you find you bought the wrong adapter, ask the person at the front desk for a loaner. Many hotels keep boxes of adapters left behind by previous guests.