Friday, July 15, 2016


When traveling outside the United States it is very likely you’ll encounter different electrical plugs, outlets and voltages than here at home. That’s because most of the world uses an electrical system that requires twice as much voltage as we do in the United States. 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: mobile phones, mp3 players, laptop computers, tablet computers, video cameras, digital cameras, and more. With all these electronic gadgets, it would seem that traveling with electronics is complicated.  It’s not that difficult… here are my hints and suggestions.


No matter what the gadget, you’ve got to plug it into something.  In the USA, that would be a socket in the wall like the one pictured below.

Typical wall socket in the USA

Logically, anywhere there is electricity, we expect to find some sort of socket 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

If traveling to continental Europe, notice how this socket is recessed/inset about one inch.  It is important to purchase an adapter like the one pictured below so it will fit inside the recessed hole.

Continental Europe ADAPTER PLUG

If traveling to the UK or Ireland, notice how their outlets have toggle switches. The outlet will not have power until the toggle switch is turned on. This is usually indicated by a red signal on the top of the switch.  However, if you find your appliance is not working, and there is no red indicator, consider toggling the switch and try again.

UK and IRELAND wall socket with switches


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. 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.
Plug designed for use in the USA
Plug designed for use in the UK and Ireland
Plug designed for use in continental Europe

When traveling from one country to another became common, not having “common” standards of electricity became a problem.  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.

Worldwide plug Adapters and Voltage Transformer

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 or B&B.  All too often, it was someone in my group trying to use their own USA hairdryer or flat iron, it overheating, and blowing a fuse or circuit.
If 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 cause a meltdown of your appliance or even “blow” a circuit or fuse in the building.


Practically every electronic gadget manufactured since 1990 is designed to operate on multiple voltages.  Mobile 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 - INPUT 100V-240V 50/60Hz

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.

Continental Europe


Some blow dryers, curling irons, and 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 for $20 or less.

When traveling in the UK or Ireland it is common to find the blow dryer in a drawer in your hotel room, NOT in the bathroom.  Apparently, there is a building code that does not allow electronics or outlets in the bath area.


The world does not operate on a standardized electrical system, each country has their own standards.  Consequently, our appliances and gadgets will not work outside the USA without some electrical modification.  For modern-day gadgets, you will need and electrical adapter that fits the wall socket for the country in which you will be traveling.  Occasionally you may need an electrical converter and adapter if you use a blow dryer, flat iron or curling iron from the USA.

If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below.

Do you want to learn more about traveling to Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at my website. Visit now at

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website,


  1. Who knew that there were so many different types of plugs in Europe. I thought it was all under one roof with the EU and all! Great Tip for me and mine. Thanks! :D

  2. I vividly remember a trip I took to Germany in 2001. I brought my laptop only to find out I couldn't plug it in. Thank goodness for cybercafes.

  3. I vividly remember a trip I took to Germany in 2001. I brought my laptop only to find out I couldn't plug it in. Thank goodness for cybercafes.

  4. We live in a wired world, but it's obviously not all wired the same way. Thanks for this information.

  5. For first-time travelers, it's hard to know whether to choose a converter or adapter. This article explains the difference very clearly. Thanks!


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