Do I Need Electrical Appliances?
The first thing to consider is which electrical appliances you really need to bring. Given the complexities of safely using your electrical appliances overseas, your best bet is to just leave them at home altogether -- you probably don't really need them, and they're often more trouble than they're worth when traveling.
Most hotels offer hair dryers and irons so you don't have to bring your own, and you can easily use manual razors and toothbrushes instead of their electric counterparts.
If you plan on staying in one country for a while, you might want to buy a hair dryer or electric razor there. Battery-operated appliances are another option if you're willing to bring plenty of replacements.
Your best bet may be to buy travel-size dual-voltage appliances that can run on both 110-volt and 220-volt currents. Make sure the switch is on the proper voltage for the country you are in before using the appliance. You will also need to carry adapter plugs with you to fit the outlets in the countries you're visiting.
However, if you're bringing something you just can't live without -- like a cell phone or laptop, for instance -- read on for tips on what equipment you'll need to make your appliance work safely overseas.
Most American-made electrical appliances work at 110 volts. While Japan, most of North America, and parts of South America and the Caribbean use voltage between 100 and 125, the vast majority of the world, including Europe and Israel, uses 220 - 240 volts.
Be sure to check the label and/or owner's manual on your appliance before buying a converter, as it might be designed to work at both 110/120 and 220/240 volts -- many new gadgets are, particularly ones that are designed to travel such as laptops and cell phones. If this is the case, you'll probably only need a plug adapter. If your appliance only operates at 110 volts, you'll need to buy a voltage converter. Small electronics, razors and non-heating appliances will need a 50-watt converter. Heating appliances such as dryers, irons, coffee makers and other high-powered electrical appliances need a 1600-watt converter. You can also purchase combination converters for both types. Check the label on your electrical appliance to find its wattage.
To further complicate matters, some electronics are designed for 60-cycles-per-second electricity and cannot tolerate the 50-cycles-per-second electricity found in many countries. Most modern appliances will work on both frequencies, but check your label or owner's manual to be sure; otherwise, you run the risk of blowing a fuse in your hotel or burning out your appliance even if you have the right voltage converter. Be aware that clocks and appliances that rely on timers may not keep time correctly when operating at 50 hertz.
Even if two countries operate on the same voltage, their outlets might not take the same shape of plug -- and that's where an adapter comes in. An adapter will allow you only to plug your appliance into another type of outlet -- not change the electrical voltage.
Travel stores often sell convenient and inexpensive kits with five different-sized adapters that will work with nearly any outlet in the world. Note that these often won't work for appliances that need to be grounded, which will require a more expensive grounding adapter.
Where to Buy Adapters and Converters
Converters and sets of adapter plugs are available at most travel/luggage stores and at electronic stores like Best Buy and RadioShack. A set of adapter plugs will cost around $15 - $20, and in some stores you can buy an individual adapter for just a few dollars.