Stay plugged in while you tour Europe
Even solo travelers want to stay connected as they adventure in Europe, bringing gadgets and devices for sharing photos and experiences. But these devices usually have batteries that require recharging. Since voltage and plug shape aren't the same across the pond as in the United States, it pays to get on top of electrical differences before you go.
Higher voltage in Europe
Electrical voltage is a measure of the pressure in an electrical circuit source that pushes the electrical current. But you don't have to understand the science of it to work the system. All you need to remember is that standard voltage in the United States is 120, while in Europe it's 220. Plugging equipment built for 120 volts into a circuit with 220 volts can "fry" it.
In yesteryear, appliances built in the U.S. would not operate on 220 voltage. Travelers wanting to take an appliance to Europe would have to purchase an expensive voltage converter. These could be as bulky and heavy as the appliance itself.
Over time, devices that could operate on either 110 or 220 became more common, like travel hairdryers you could switch between 110 and 220. Today, many gadgets are labeled "dual voltage." This means that they operate just fine on either type of current, no manual switching required. Look for "110-220" printed on the label. Almost all computers, smartphones and cameras sold in the U.S. are now dual voltage.
Plugs and adapters
One big gadget difference remains: the shape of electric plugs. American plugs have two flat prongs, and electrical outlets have two narrow holes perfectly fitting them. In Britain and Ireland, electrical appliances have three flat prongs, and outlets work only for this type of plug. In other European countries, outlets are built to take plugs with two round prongs.
Plug-shape differences are easily surmounted with inexpensive adapters that plug into your device's plug and fit local outlets. If you are going to tour Europe, bring one for the UK plugs and one for the round plugs in continental Europe. If you are just traveling across the continent, you'll need only the round-plug adapters.
Tape the adapters onto your device plugs so you don't forget them in hotels when you unplug.
Appliances to leave behind
Even if you aren't backpacking across Europe, many people like to travel light. This might mean that some of your heavier appliances should stay behind. For example, if you have an appliance that isn't dual voltage, you'll have to cart around a voltage converter to make it work. These are great candidates for leaving at home.
Most electronics are expensive to replace, so consider taking only those you will use regularly. You likely don't need to take both a tablet and a computer. And figure out costs before you plan to use your smartphone in Europe. It might be cheaper to simply buy an inexpensive prepaid phone in Europe.
Cheating and safety considerations
Don't play around with electricity. If you forget to bring an adapter or lose it along the way, buy another one, even if prices are higher in European stores than in the U.S. Attempting to jimmy-rig a plug to squeeze it into an outlet designed for a different plug is asking for trouble. You could get an electric shock or ruin your device. Playing around with electricity just isn't worth the risk.