Anyone who has traveled through Europe or Asia probably has a few power adapters in their travel arsenal; but the issue goes beyond just a different plug. In fact, while the United States had a showdown at the turn of the last century between Thomas Edison and the Westinghouse Company over current – namely the DC (Edison’s Direct Current) vs. AC (Westinghouse’s Alternating Current) – the rest of the world somehow managed a similar debate, and then somehow came up with localized plugs for reasons that never really became clear.
Strangely, while most of the world eventually decided to adopt driving on the same side of the road (with the exception of the British and various Commonwealth countries, as well as Japan), everyone managed to eventually come to a standard for railroad gauge, and even has worked to bring out a single HDTV standard, one thing that probably will never be universal will be those darn power outlets.
Part of the problem is that different nations don’t just have different plugs; they use different voltage, which can play havoc with electrical devices. A decade ago some computer companies would warn that you would even void the warranty if you used your laptop overseas in a country with different voltage.
But today there is another issue, and one that can have some other problems. This is mobile phone chargers and juicing up while traveling. The good news is that today’s mobile phones can take the electrical charge almost anywhere, provided you have an adapter for the actual power outlet. So if you’re traveling overseas and already took the time to invest in a world phone, the next step is to get an adapter. But if you’re traveling to a particular region a lot, consider investing in an actual charger for that part of the world. Fortunately, power adapters are becoming universal even if the plugs are not.
The good news is that the charger already converts the power flow to what the device needs—and so does the power cord for a laptop these days. The issue a decade ago was that some laptop power cords didn’t always have the converters, and the power supply couldn’t handle the voltage difference. So a laptop should be fine, but a word to the wise: video game system or desktop PC might not be as safe, at least depending on the internal power supply. In other words, find out whether your portable (or not so portable device as the case maybe) has any sort of transformer in the power cable.
All this brings me to my next point, to consider one of two things while traveling abroad. Whether you are sightseeing or stuck in endless days of meetings, one thing to keep in mind is that you might not have anywhere to power up. So either buy a second battery for your mobile phone or consider an external battery pack. The latter are typically disposable and not the best environmentally, but these are a godsend in a pinch. The only downside is that you can’t save them forever because as with other batteries they will slowly lose the juice over time.