Q: I’m about to take my first trip to Europe and need help understanding what power adapters and cell phones I’ll need while I’m there. — Jamie
A: According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the average household has 24 electronic gadgets and many of them travel with us.
Making sure you have everything you need before you depart will save you a lot of money and aggravation.
Let’s start with power.
Make sure that everything that you plan on plugging in has the voltage range of 110-240V and frequency range of 50-60Hz (usually listed on the power adapter or bottom of the device).
Laptop computers, portable DVD players, cell phone chargers, and most consumer electronics are generally capable of switching to the higher voltage used in Europe, but items like curling irons aren’t.
If any of your gadgets don’t have the higher ratings, you will need to purchase a voltage converter that will ‘step down’ the voltage from 240 to 110 (available at most electronics stores) — otherwise, don’t take them.
Next, you will need plenty of wall plug adapters. The wall plugs in Europe have two round holes, so the slotted plugs we use in the US won’t fit.
In my past travels, this was the one item that we never seemed to have enough of. Most of us charge up all our devices at night at the same time (laptop, netbook, cell phone, digital camera, portable game player, etc.), so make sure you count how many gadgets you plan on charging simultaneously before you buy the adapters.
Many stores sell a ‘world travel kit’ that has every adapter needed for every country in the world. While it may seem like a good idea, don’t waste your money (unless you actually travel the entire world regularly).
Only buy the exact adapters that you need and remember to get plenty of them.
Another thing you must think about is whether your devices have a standard two-pronged plug or a three-pronged plug (like the one for your laptop). Make sure you get the right type of adapter(s) once you have done your inventory.
If you have a lot of devices and extra room, you should consider packing a power strip as many hotel rooms in older European hotels have few outlets (you will need a three-pronged US-to-Europe adapter for the power strip as well).
As for cell phones, in virtually all cases, using your US carrier’s ‘roam’ option while in Europe will be the most expensive option (as much as $1.50 per minute), so when in Rome, don’t roam! Make sure you turn your US cell phone off or leave your smartphone in ‘airplane’ mode so it doesn’t automatically connect you to the European cellular networks when you get there.
If you have the time, purchase an ‘unlocked’ GSM phone before you leave (Craigslist or eBay) or buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone once you get there (the safest option) or check with friends that travel abroad to see if they already own a travel phone.
Prepaid SIM cards are sold by virtually every merchant in most European countries, so you can pay as you go and control your cellular expense instead of getting a big surprise on your bill once you get home.
In addition, if you don’t already have a Skype account, get one and install the Skype software on your laptop and your smartphone, then buy $10 worth of credits. You can make Skype-to-Skype calls for free (get anyone you want to call while on your trip set up with an account before you leave as well) or pay @ 2 cents per minute to call any standard land line or cell phone even back in the US.
Any time your laptop is connected to the Internet, you can use it as a phone via Skype. (You can even hold conference calls on Skype!)
To use Skype on your smartphone, you must be connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. I’d use the unlocked cell phone for local calls and Skype for long-distance calls.
When I went to Italy, my $10 Skype credit easily covered all my calls back to the office and family (in fact, I only used $4 of the credit during my three-week trip).
Finally, download a hotspot locater app on your smartphone so you can easily find free and low cost Wi-Fi, allowing you to use Skype more often!
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