European Electricity and the Connected Tourist
European power, power converters, plugs and more - What you need to know about plugging in when you travel Europe.
On your first trip to Europe the thing that stands out about your hotel room might very well be the wall sockets. They're different. They're big.
The second thing you'll probably notice is that there aren't a lot of them. Power, you see, is quite expensive in Europe.
So what you need to run that laptop, hair dryer, electric shaver, or miniature toaster oven is a doohickey that converts your plug so that it fits whatever socket they use in the European country you're visiting. No problem. They're cheap. You can buy plug converters at many travel-oriented stores in the US, as well as electrical and hardware stores in Europe. See the picture of the converter that works in continental Europe below.
Before you say, "Cool. I'm off and running!" I need to warn you of something: what's coming out of that socket is a whopping 220 volts at 50 cycles, twice the voltage of American power systems. It may be way too much for your appliance. Remember: an adapter plug doesn't convert the voltage, it just converts the hardware plug (see the definitions below).
To see a video of European plugs and sockets, see: Electricity in Europe Basics
European Electricity - Some People Learn the Hard Way
Once when in Sardinia on a volunteer archaeology project we spent a day without lights because one of the volunteers had plugged one of those 27 zillion watt, 110 volt hair dryers into the standard 220 line. When asked if she knew the voltage was different, she replied, "Of course I knew! I just wanted to see if it'd work."
Science is a good thing. So are experiments. The result of this one was a smoldering and distorted mass of cheap plastic and a candlelight dinner. You see, the 220 volts had caused an overpower condition that turned the whole unit into a lump of smelly, overheated parts.
Hair dryers can be a problem. They take massive amounts of power. If you can't do without, you might consider buying one in Europe to make sure its power requirements match those of the counties in which the device is used.
Taking Stock of your Electrical Needs when you travel in Europe
How to Determine if you need just a Plug Adapter or a Voltage Converter