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Not unlike the metric system, the Celsius scale, or the 24-hour clock, the standard voltage of electronics overseas is different from what we use here in the USA. While electronics in the States generally have a standard voltage of 120V, standard voltage elsewhere in the world can range from 110 to 220 volts.
What this means for you is that if you’re planning to travel with your U.S. electronics, you may need a voltage converter (not to be confused with an adapter). If you try to plug a 110V device into a 220V socket, you’re liable to blow a fuse or start a small fire. Most smaller devices like phones or computers are dual voltage, meaning they have settings for both 110V and 220V, and often adjust automatically to the setting. In this case, you only need a travel adapter — the small wall plug-in device that allows you to fit your American plug into a Transatlantic outlet. If your device is not dual voltage, you need a converter, which changes the voltage to match the area.
Things to Consider When Buying a Voltage Converter
If you do find yourself in need of a converter, especially if you’ll be overseas for a long time, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Portability: Many travel converters, especially those with enough juice to work with high-watt electronics like hair dryers, are, in a word, bulky. They can be heavy and cumbersome and a huge pain to travel with, so we don’t love these for small trips. However, if you’re making a move or staying someplace for two weeks or more and there’s a single voltage device you can’t live without, this might be your best option. Other converters are made to travel more easily. They are small, and often include protective cases and adaptors, but they are far less powerful.
Noise: Not a huge issue, but converters must include some type of fan to keep the device from overheating, which can get loud. This is a personal issue, but we think it’s important to keep in mind if you’re a light sleeper.
Capacity: As previously noted, not all converters are created equal or can handle the same level of wattage. Depending on size, travel converters can handle anywhere from 50 to 3,000 watts. Many small converters are not powerful enough to charge larger devices like hair dryers, so take a hard look at how many watts your device needs and how many watts a converter can take.
1. BESTEK Universal Travel Adapter & Converter
This little converter’s compact size (think about the size of a small paperback), five-foot detachable power cable, and velvety carrying pouch make it ideal for traveling wherever you’re headed. It comes with universal adapters included, with three AC outlets and four USB charging ports. You can use all of these ports at once, as long as you do not exceed the converter’s maximum 250 watt capacity.
2. Foval International Travel Adapter
This Foval converter has a 200-watt capacity, and includes multiple universal adaptors to power multiple devices at once. Users report good results with this product, and the manufacturer notes that it produces an especially quick charge. It all tucks away easily in a carry-on bag or pouch as well.
3. Rockstone Power 3000-Watt Voltage Converter
Our heavy-duty 3,000 watt converter pick is definitely not for light travel, as it is quite heavy and bulky. That said, if you’re moving overseas and you have some devices you’d rather not part with, it’s a great, reliable converter to power even large devices, from vacuum cleaners to coffee makers.
4. Key Power 200-Watt Step Down
This is another slim converter designed for travel, with room for three sockets and four USB ports, which can be used at once. The included adapters work in countries on every continent (except Antartica). We also appreciate that the cooling fan is relatively quiet, producing only a low-level white noise that shouldn’t interrupt sleep.