Electrical Adapters

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATraveling without electronics is near impossible in today’s world.  Twenty years ago, the only travel concern relating to electricity was how to plug in a blow dryer or curling iron without causing a meltdown. But not today, just think of all the gadgets we have:  cell phones, mp3 players, laptop computers, tablet computers, video cameras, digital cameras, and more.  With all these electronic gadgets, it would seem that travel would become more complicated, “electronically” speaking.  However, it’s not that difficult… here are my hints and suggestions.



No matter what the gadget, you’ve got to plug it in to something.  Here at home, that would be a socket in the wall.

wall-outlet USA

Typical USA wall socket/outlet

So, logically, anywhere there is electricity, we expect to find some sort of socket in the wall in which to plug our stuff. However, the design of the socket is not universal!  Practically, every country has its own modification of the basic design.


Typical Continental Europe wall socket.

ac-adapt_05 EUNotice how this socket is recessed/inset about one inch.  It is important to purchase an adapter such as the one pictured to your left, so it will fit inside the recessed hole.

UK wall_socket

Typical UK and Ireland wall socket

Notice the two toggle switches?  The outlet will not have power until the toggle switch is turned on.  This is usually indicated by a red light on the top of the switch.  However, if you find your appliance is not working, and there is no indicator light, consider toggling the switch and try again.



Originally, electricity was used for lighting, and depending on the country, the best suited material for the wiring differed according to what was readily available. So, the United States agreed on a standard of about 110 volts AC.  Meanwhile, in Europe, they agreed on a standard of around 220 volts AC.

Originally, appliances designed in Europe would work only in Europe.  Those designed in the USA, only worked in the USA. You could not “mix” voltage.  That’s why the sockets and plugs differ.  You’ve heard the saying, “you can’t put a square plug into a round hole?” So, this was an easy way to keep “dummies” from plugging in mismatched devices and melting down appliances when visiting countries other than their own.

USA plug

Plugs made for USA appliances and electronics.

UK plug

Plugs made for UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and Ireland appliances and electronics.

EU plug

Continental Europe plug

So, when traveling from one country to another became common, not having “common” standards of electricity became a common problem for common people.  Thus, the invention of the wall socket/plug ADAPTER and the VOLTAGE CONVERTER.  With these two gadgets, theoretically, anyone could travel from one country to the other and never have to worry about electrical problems with their gadgets.

However, the best intended plans never seem to work all the time.  I recall traveling on several occasions when suddenly the lights would dim and go out in our hotel.  All too often it was a combination of someone trying to use their own USA hairdryer, it overheating, and blowing a fuse or circuit.

hairdryerIf you bring a curling iron, flat iron, straightener, or hair dryer from home (USA), you will need to purchase an electrical power converter and wall socket adapters.  In theory, these electrical power converters step down the 240 volt power used in Europe to the 120 volts we use in the USA.  These devices work most of the time, however, using them in older buildings with antique wiring will sometimes still cause a meltdown of your appliance or even “blow” a circuit or fuse in the building.


Voltage Converter with adapters



Practically every electronic gadget manufactured in the last ten years is designed, from the factory, to operate on multiple voltages.  Cell phones, computers, iPads, tablets, digital cameras, and camcorders will recognize and adapt to the voltage in which it is plugged… without damaging the gadget.  However, just to be sure, always look at the device’s power cord, power supply, or documentation for a statement similar to that shown below.


Notice the caption: “AC ADAPTER
INPUT 100v-240v – 50/60Hz

So, if your device falls into the category above (and it will if it is some sort of mobile electronic gadget or camera) all you need is an adapter to plug into the wall socket.  Here are examples for the UK and Continental Europe.

ac-adapt_05 UK

UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and Ireland

ac-adapt_05 EU

Continental Europe

SUGGESTION: Some Hair Dryers, Curling Irons, and Hair Straighteners are made to accept dual voltage.  These generally have a small dial on the handle which can be rotated to select the appropriate electrical voltage.  Often you can pick up this type of appliance at Walmart, Walgreens, Target, or other retail outlets.

So, there you have it… all you need to know to travel with electronics and not have a meltdown.

About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.

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