Powering your portable devices abroad

Most devices can now handle variations in voltage. But plugs still vary widely.

Jud Guitteau

Unfortunately for light packers, traveling with gadgets often requires a sackful of supporting gadgets.

To ensure laptops and portable devices keep chugging through a European vacation, you'll need to find room in your bags for recharging cables, perhaps an extra battery, and a scattering of plug adapters. But there's one device that you no longer need to pack: Those hefty power converters.

Not too long ago, varying international electricity standards meant travelers needed to buy power transformers to charge their electronics. Feed a laptop the wrong voltage and you're both in for an unwelcome surprise.

This is no longer the case. Countries still can't agree on a single voltage, but most laptops now come with a converter built into the power cables. It's the brick attached to the middle or perhaps the end of the cord.

To ensure your devices are travel-ready, check the labels attached these blocks. Most now say "100-240V." That means it can handle anything from 100 volts (such as in Japan) to 240 (the voltage in Australia). The range covers virtually every power outlet in the world.

If you can't find a listing on the power brick itself, look in the device's manual.

There's another number that you need to inspect before heading abroad. Built-in power converters should also work with electricity at both 50 and 60 Hertz. Most of Europe runs at 50 Hz, while the US uses 60 Hz. This figure should be printed near the voltage listing.

While converters are no longer a necessity, plug adapters are still unavoidable. For a full chart of each country's preferred plugs – with images of the adapters – check out www.electricaloutlet.org.

But buyer, beware: many sources refer to the dozen different plug types by letters – A though M, mostly – yet some do not agree on which letter refers to which adapter. Before purchasing any plugs, make sure to double-check physical descriptions and country details.

More tech explainers:
Why are HDMI cables so expensive?
Why ‘more megapixels!’ doesn’t mean better pix
Straight talk about cellphone ‘Gs’

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