PM: What’s the difference between a power adapter and a power converter?
SD: A power adapter, also known as a travel plug or a travel adapter, is a small device you’ll need when traveling to a country where the electrical plugs aren’t the same as in the US. These adapters plug into the power sockets in other countries on one side and, on the other, you plug in your device made for US power sockets. However, it does not change the voltage of the power coming from the outlet.
A power converter, also known as a voltage converter, is a device that changes the voltage of the power coming from an outlet. Voltage is essentially the power with which electricity is forced into your device. In the US, most devices like hair straighteners or electric razors are 110 volts. However, most newer devices (including most phones and computers, including Apple computers and both Apple and Google phones) are dual voltage, which means you do not need a power converter—just an adapter.
If you plug something in and notice it getting warm, making a slight buzzing noise, or delivering a very tiny shock when handling the cord, you should unplug it immediately and not use it again until you have a converter.
PM: When do you need a travel adapter?
SD: You will need a travel adapter any time you travel to most countries other than the U.S., Mexico, or Canada. In the U.S., electrical devices have either a type A port (two prongs) or a type B port (two prongs with a central round prong below).
A few countries use these same ports (such as Antigua, Panama, and Saudi Arabia), but in general, most other countries use one of a few other combos. There are 15 different plugs around the world, some of which are used in only one or two countries.
Remember, though, that there is variety within countries. For example, a cruise ship that caters to mainly French tourists may have mostly type E ports, commonly used in France, even if it sails in a country that primarily uses type L.
PM: How do I know which adapter I need?
SD: Fortunately, figuring this part out is easy. If you’re staying at a hotel or going on a cruise that caters to international guests, just ask them what ports they have (or check their FAQ page).
Otherwise, it’s as simple as doing an online search for “what type of power socket does country use?” There are also useful websites available, such as https://www.power-plugs-sockets.com, where you can click on where you live and where you’re coming from to see if you need an adapter (or converter).