How to find the right travel adapters and converters for your next trip abroad

Are your travel adapters and converters ready for your next journey abroad?

Are your travel adapters and converters ready for your next vacation?

When John Gasink plugged his continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device into a power outlet at the Heidelberg Marriott Hotel, he was in for a shock. So were many of the hotel’s guests.

“I saw sparks,” says Gasink, who works for a logistics company in Richmond. “And then the lights went out in half the hotel.”

After the power came back on, he diagnosed the problem: His CPAP machine needed more than a plug adapter. It also required a voltage converter so it wouldn’t short out the German plugs or his medical equipment.

Are your travel adapters and converters ready for your next vacation?

Gasink, who had just purchased the CPAP machine, thought he would be fine. “The hotel had what appeared to be universal plugs next to the bed,” he recalls.

And so it goes. In the weeks since I mentioned adapters and converters in one of my columns, readers have flooded my inbox with questions about making the right connection overseas. Some, like Gasink, want to share their plug horror stories. Others recommended a favorite plug or universal adapter for their fellow international travelers.

Before I get to those, let me share a few plug stories. Kristin McGrath, an editor from Austin, recalls a recent trip to Lisbon, where she checked into the Nesha Guesthouse. She and her husband were exhausted and jet-lagged.

“I was half asleep when my husband asked me, ‘Those plug adapters we bought for Europe mean we can plug American plugs into the wall here right?’ I mumbled, ‘Yes.’ ”

Actually, no.

“He plugged in the power strip so he could charge all our devices,” she says. “There was a pop, sparks and a burning smell. The power strip got scorched. And we blew out the power to all our neighboring rooms.”

McGrath had to call the owner to flip the breakers and explain to the other guests that the hotel wasn’t on fire, despite the burning smell.

Another blown fuse

Alicia DiVittorio, a marketing consultant from San Francisco, shared another unfortunate blowout story. She was traveling through Greece with her husband and infant son. She tried to plug her breast pump into the outlet, and the fuse blew, destroying the cord. Fortunately, her son was on the trip with her. “We just had to rely on old-fashioned nursing the entire trip,” she says.

Karen Fawcett, a Washington-based editor who used to live in Paris for part of each year, says she’s done it all. “I have probably burned out every appliance, including ones where I used transformers,” she says. “I finally broke down and bought an E.U. blender, which cost a small fortune.”

The takeaway? Without the correct equipment, gadgets blow up when you cross the border. Better get used to it.

But they don’t have to. The key is understanding the difference between an adapter and a converter. Adapters allow your U.S. appliance to plug into a European power outlet but don’t convert the voltage. A converter, as the name implies, converts your voltage, usually from 220V to 110V.

Many devices you’re likely to travel with are dual-voltage, which means they can run on 220V or 110V.

It gets a little complicated because there are multiple plug types and varying voltages. (For a list of plugs and adapters, go to wapo.st/plugs. For a list of voltages by country, go to wapo.st/voltage.)

The final piece of the puzzle is your device

“Most other electronics that have bricks will give you this information,” says Chad Taylor, a sales manager and technology expert with Abt Electronics, an electronics retailer based in Glenview, Ill. “But you just might need a magnifying glass to read it.

What needs a converter? Generally, it’s certain hair dryers, electric razors or anything else that plugs directly into the wall without a brick between them. Even if you think your device might work, it makes sense to buy a converter for your trip just in case. The only way to be certain that your device will work is for it to be native. In other words, buy the electric razor in the country you’re visiting, or use the hotel’s hair dryer.

So what are the best adapters and converters for your next trip? Taylor likes the Tumi electric adapter ($50), which offers four plug configurations in one unit for non-grounded electrical connectivity. It works in 150 countries and works with most two-pole plugs.

Another favorite is the Twist World Adapter Duo from OneAdaptr ($37), a universal power adapter that also works in more than 150 countries. It comes with two USB ports and an AC adapter for almost any plug and allows you to power up three devices at once.

If you make frequent overseas trips, you might want to check out a dedicated adapter for a device. That’s what Jordan Barkin, a real estate agent from Atlanta, did when he started traveling internationally. For his PC, he uses an HP Travel Power Adapter 65W ($69), which comes with a built-in surge protector, ensuring that his laptop doesn’t end up a smoldering pile of plastic on his next trip.

Barkin has a Plan B that’s worth considering no matter how often you travel. “If you forget your plug or adapter, politely ask the front desk,” he says. “They usually have a box of ones that other travelers left behind.”

All of which brings me to the final piece of advice on adapters and converters. If you’re using one, double-check the electrical outlets in your room before you check out. The experts I talked to all agreed that these accessories — especially the small adapters — are easy to forget in a room. That’s good for future guests, but it’ll have you running to the nearest electronics store when you arrive at your next destination.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.