Converter vs. Adapter: Which Should You Use?


When I travel internationally, I always have a few electronics that I bring along: my phone, camera, hair straightener and kindle. I used to bring the same appliances I use at home and expect to get identical results abroad. Silly girl.

There are a few different ways to use electronics abroad. The first is a converter, which allows you to use all the same appliances abroad that you use at home. As most countries have different voltages than U.S. outlets, the converter changes the voltage of the outlet to match that of your appliance.

The second method is to use an adapter. An adapter molds your American plug to the foreign outlet. It doesn’t change any voltage, so adapters require dual-voltage appliances.

The third method is to buy all new appliances abroad.

Let’s start with buying new appliances abroad. Buying all new appliances abroad is a good idea if you’re only traveling to one place and never going anywhere else. Or if you’re adept at selling items second-hand in other countries. I really can’t think of many situations that apply here… maybe if you only travel for business to a specific place and don’t want to go anywhere else. Or if you decide to uproot your entire life and move to a different country.

Basically, you should only buy appliances abroad if you plan on living there for an extended time or hate traveling. And if you hate traveling, then why are you reading this blog…

Deciding between converters and adapters is your next goal.

I always travel with an adapter and dual-voltage appliances, never a converter.

Problems with converters:

 1. More expensive and bulky. Compared to adapters, nice, functioning converters can be 5x the price and run you over $50, whereas you can get an adapter on the fly for a couple of bucks in the airport. A converter generally comes with an adapter, so at least you won’t need to buy that in addition. In addition, converters are at least double the size, and though it may seem insignificant, that’s precious space in your luggage.

2. Malfunction frequently. In the various times I’ve brought a converter along on my travels, it hasn’t worked about 50% of the time. I wake up, shower, and expect to quickly blow dry my hair and be on my way, but lo and behold, the converter isn’t working, and I have to go out with wet hair and risk pneumonia.  

3. Can break and burn expensive things. Here’s where it gets personal. Once I traveled to China and brought my nice CHI hair straightener to use with the converter. I plugged it in and waited for it to heat up. When I checked it a few minutes later, the flat iron was cold and the outlet was smoking. It destroyed my expensive appliance! On top of having a broken $110 hair straightener, I had to deal with frizzy hair and terrible pictures for the rest of my trip.

Traveling with an adapter is the best way to go, especially if you are low-maintenance. You don’t need a converter for small things like camera and phone chargers, and those are the two most popular electronics people take with them when they travel. An adapter will help you plug your chargers into the wall, and you are good to go. I also have low-cost, dual-voltage appliances like hair straightener (Conair: $15) that I take with me. It has a 100% working rate thus far, outperforming my expensive CHI hooked up to a converter. Sure, it’s not as good of quality, but at least it works.

Do you have any dual-voltage appliance recommendations?

The Wayfaring Woman


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