One of the down sides of being a techie traveler is figuring out how to plug everything in. Advances in multi-voltage gadgetry have made it much easier to travel with your electronics, but there's still some difference between electrical systems around the world. At the very least, you're probably going to need a plug adapter.

Why Is It Such a Mess, Anyway?North America tends to use 110 or 120 volt lines with electricity running at 60Hz, which was promoted by Tesla, Westinghouse, and eventually General Electric in the U.S. Many other countries use 220 or 240 volts and 50Hz, which was promoted by German firms after World War II. It's more efficient to transmit electricity at a higher voltage, but not enough more that it's worth retrofitting millions of existing appliances.

Much of Europe's electrical infrastructure was destroyed in World War II. Europe as a whole used the German standard as part of the overall European economic unification and rebuilding projects in the 1950s. Because Japan bought generators after World War II from the U.S. and Germany, it has the unusual situation of hosting 50Hz and 60Hz current in the same country. Gizmodo has a more in-depth explainer from 2009, which is fine, because we're talking about ancient history.

Ultimately, the answer is inertia. There's no global standard, all the existing choices are good enough, and they're expensive to change unless your infrastructure has just been destroyed by a major war.

Voltage and its DiscontentsAlmost all electronics sold in the past five years can run on 100-240 volts and 50-60 hertz. (You can look at your power adapter, like on the one above, to double check.) That means wherever you go, you probably only need to use plug adapters.

There's one notable exception: hair things. Hair dryers and hair straighteners/flat irons can sometimes be single voltage for a few reasons: they count on the voltage to generate heat, and high-end flat irons are expensive enough that people don't replace them often.

In those cases, you could use a transformer to change the local voltage into the one your appliance expects, but I advise: don't. There are a lot of voltage transformers out there. None of them get particularly good reviews. They're all loud and heavy. It's by far a better idea to either pick up a dual-voltage travel flat iron and hair dryer before you leave, or simply to get one at a department store at your destination.

Good Housekeeping did a survey of travel hair dryers and recommends the $14.99 Conair Minipro, which is dual-voltage and cheaper than a transformer. There aren't a lot of good reviews of flat irons out there, but the well-reviewed HSI Professional 1 is dual-voltage and only $40 on Amazon.

If you're staying in a hotel, you can also check the outlet near the light switch in the bathroom. Many international hotels provide a single 110-120v outlet (often marked "Electric Shaver") in the bathroom, which is appropriate for any of your U.S. hair devices.

Plug It In, Plug It InThere are about 15 different kinds of outlets around the world, but there are only five you need to know about:

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The unique plugs used in many countries mostly differ in their third, grounding prong. Yes, it's safer to use grounded plugs, especially with larger home appliances, but short-term travelers with light-duty electronics can skip the third pin in a pinch.

For gadget-heavy travelers, the best bet is to carry a few plug adapters and then a power strip to stack all of your gadgets against in the evening.

I'm addicted to the Eurapra (formerly called Wonpro) universal power strips, which have special outlets which can take any plug. Some versions also have detachable cords on the end, which can be swapped for a bunch of different countries' cords, making the power strip completely customized for the destination country.

Rock Lee, the head of Europlugs, which makes the Eurapra strips, said this week that it is just starting to sell "fourth-generation" strips, which allow grounded connections between U.S. and European plugs and sockets and have smaller, easier-to-use safety shutters. You can find those exclusively at; frequent travelers will especially like the "power bars" with interchangeable end cords for different countries. While some older Wonpro products are available on Amazon, Lee said, the newest ones (with the Eurapra name on them) are only sold on the Europlugs site right now.

If you like electrical engineering, Europlugs's detailed slide deck on its build process is surprisingly dramatic, and will give you some faith in its products.

There's some drama around universal power strips. Certification authorities and organizations like the U.K. watchdog PlugSafe hate them for various reasons, and they're right. They're less safe than single-country strips. You can accidentally plug a 120v-only appliance into a 240v outlet (possibly setting it on fire), you could potentially stick paper clips into the extra holes, and such. But used intelligently by traveling professionals who check the voltage on their gadgets first, they're perfectly safe.

Otherwise, plug adapters are cheap. You can buy Wonpro/Eurapra adapters from, or Ceptics-branded adapters from Amazon. If you're traveling from the U.S. to Europe, I find the adaptors with large, circular bodies like the Ceptics GP-series shown above to work the best with the often-recessed European outlets; smaller adapters like the Ceptics UP-series that just extend your plug can wobble in the outlet, especially if you're using a heavier gadget power supply.'s lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan, has reviewed hundreds of smartphones, tablets and other gadgets in more than 13 years with PCMag. He's the head of our Fastest Mobile Networks project, hosts our One Cool Thing daily Web show, and writes opinions on tech and society. Segan is also a multiple award-winning travel writer. Other than ... See Full Bio

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