This is the big drawback of being a digital traveller. As much as we like every country to be different, the difficulties of travelling with electronics can be not only annoying, but also expensive. Here we are going to try and shed a little light at least on what it all means and how to prepare for our most non-standard of worlds.
Painfully, the world is by no means standard when it comes to electricity. It seems that each country has wanted to put their own little signature on power, and this means a device you use at home is not going to work abroad. Thankfully, most manufacturers of devices that travel, such as laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones etc. have provided for this by building their machines to cope. Still, the things you need to check are listed below. Check for each device. A mistake could be costly!
First – the obvious, the plug. There are many different types of plug in the world. It’s a good chance wherever you are going has different plugs to you. Get yourself down to a hardware or travel shop and buy yourself a plug adapter for the country you are going to. If you are from a smaller country – you should buy this before you leave, you would be surprised how hard it is to get an adapter for your country at your destination.
Some places sell super multi-converting plugs that twist and change pocket-knife style to convert from many plug types to many other plug types. These are usually bulky and can have a habit of falling out of the wall in countries with not so sturdy plug types (eg: USA). However they are a blessing if you are travelling to many places in one trip. Make sure that if your device uses the Earthing pin (usually the third pin on its own on the plug) that the plug adapter also has a third pin. Using your device without the Earth is not safe.
You don’t need to know what voltage or current are, you just need to know that your electrical device is rated to be used at the voltages and currents supplied by the country you are in. This should be written on the device you are using or in many cases the power adapter for your device (the small, usually black box that is between the device and the plug that gets warm). Here is an example of what will be written and how to interpret it:
Input: AC 100-240V 50-60Hz
If your device says this, and many do, you are in luck. Your device supports just about all voltages and currents. The “AC” means that it requires Alternating Current. It is rare for power not to be AC. “100-240V” means that your device will operate within the voltage range of 100 Volts and 240 Volts. That covers just about all countries. If your device had said “230V” then you would be restricted to 230 Volt countries, such as Australia or UK. There is margin for error but it’s small, you certainly couldn’t go to a country such as the United States. “50-60Hz” means that your device will operate with power supplies that provide a current of between 50 and 60 Hertz. Most devices operate within this range. If your device operates at only one current. It will probably still operate. But it’s not recommended and may cause it to burn out.
If you are travelling to a country with a different voltage to yours, you can get devices that convert up or transform down to the voltage your device requires. Make sure you spend good money on this device – if it fails it will destroy the device connected to it. Most companies do not recommend using these devices with their products. Mainly because of the risk associated with the device failing. The choice is yours.
If you are in a different country and you don’t quite know how things work, be a little more careful with electricity. It’s a killer we’ve all grown complacent with. Don’t use strings of converters to get from one plug to the plug you desire. Don’t leave devices unattended running on a transformer. Common sense – you know we had to say it.
If you’re made of money and like to dial your own internet provider from anywhere in the world, you probably don’t need this advice, but here it is anyway. Using a modem around the world can be voodoo. Don’t depend on getting a connection, as it’s not always going to happen. Some of the things you need to look for are:
Once again, the world is by no means standard in this area. Many countries use a standard RJ11 connector for their phone systems, while many others don’t. Even the ones that do have only been doing so recently (relative to the amount of time the telephone has been around). So you may come across an older style of plug, or a cable running straight into the wall. If you are confident with such things it is possible to wire all of this stuff yourself. There is very little electrical danger on phone lines. We don’t recommend it however. In most cases a plug adapter is what you will need. If you always carry an RJ11 lead for your modem, you will not find it hard to find the adapter you need at an electronics store in the country you visit.
Don’t be fooled by that nice looking socket in your hotel room, the one that your modem plug fits into perfectly. It’s highly possible that it is a digital PABX line. This could destroy your modem. Ouch. If you are not the type to carry a line tester around with you, then you are going to need to check with the people responsible for the line you are using as to whether it is an analog phone line suitable for use with a modem.
The dial tone on phone systems around the world can be different. You will know how your modem feels when you get a weird engaged tone when you ring someone and you're not quite sure what the phone system is trying to tell you. You need to set your modem to ignore dial tone. This can be done in the Control Panel of Windows or MacOS very easily.
In some countries you may find Tax Impulses – a type of signal sent along the line for billing purposes can disrupt your connection. This problem is getting less over time. You can buy adapters to overcome this. Ask around locally if your connection is always dropping out. If the line you are using looks old, or the building is, or if you are in a third world country, you might want to drop the speed of your modem down. This will mean noise affects the connection less. Remember that most hotels charge an unjustifiable, almost criminal rate for phone calls.
Wanting to be a law abiding citizen is something you should always strive to do, especially in a foreign country where you are not necessarily going to be afforded rights you take for granted in your own country. Although it’s not usually going to be a problem, be warned about some of the following things that may affect you and your gadgets in other countries:
Much of this information was derived from www.kropla.com. This is an excellent place to go for information on all things electronic when travelling, including voltage tables for all the countries of the world.
Please read our disclaimer regarding the advice on this page