Thanks to the ubiquity of dual-voltage power adapters, it’s not hard or expensive to bring the devices we use most often to Europe: Your smartphone, laptop, Kindle, powered headphones and other devices will all work and charge normally. All you really need to decide is which adapter type to bring and how many.
As you may know, American devices and appliances run on 110 volts, but devices designed for much of the rest of the world, including Europe, run on 220 to 240 volts. This would normally be a huge problem, since devices designed for the US would not work in Europe, and vice versa. In fact, the results could be explosive, as I experienced one time in a hotel room during a business trip to Israel. Oops.
Fortunately, modern devices ship with dual-voltage power adapters—sometimes called switching power supplies—that allow them to be used in different markets. And you can verify that your device’s power adapter supports this capability simply by looking at it, though you’ll find that a magnifying glass is often required: It will note that the device supports a range of voltages, typically 110 to 220 or 110 to 240. And will it switch automatically.
What you will need, however, is an adapter: You can’t plug and American two- or three-prong plug into any European power socket. Which adapter you need will depend on your destination.
Most European countries use a two-prong plug, but the prongs are round, not flat as we see in American plugs. These come in grounded (smaller) and non-grounded versions. If your American device comes with a two-prong power plug, you can use either type of adapter.
But if the device has a three-prong plug, you must use a larger, grounded adapter. The hole on the adapter connects to a ground prong in European sockets.
Great Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, use a bulky three-prong, grounded plug with large, angular prongs. So, you will always use a three-prong adapter, no matter which device you’re using.
So what do we do and recommend?
We don’t typically use universal travel adapters—which work in multiple countries, including both those in continental Europe and the UK—because they tend to be very big and expensive. But there are some smaller and cheaper options now, and I recently purchased two Kikkerland Universal Travel Adapters to test on our next trip.
From a practical perspective, you could buy one adapter for every device you’re bringing on a trip. And we do always bring enough adapters so that everyone in the family—me, my wife, and each child—has at least three adapters. (When traveling to continental Europe, everyone gets two of the smaller two-prong adapters and one of the larger three-prong adapters, for example).
But European homes and hotel rooms tend to have far fewer power sockets than is typical in America. So, I always bring at least one travel-sized (American) power strip—with both power sockets and USB ports—along as well. This way, we can charge multiple devices using a single power socket. I strongly recommend you do so as well.
Remember, too, that laptops can charge smaller devices like smartphones via their own USB ports, oftentimes when the device is off or asleep. That’s another good way to maximize power socket usage.