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posted: 6/9/2013 6:00 AM

Using appliances in Europe can be a power struggle

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When Pam Fink toured Europe last month, she found it difficult to stay current. She wasn't talking about the events of the day. She was taking about her hairdryer. "It never worked right," Pam said. "Either the power was so weak it wouldn't dry a toothbrush or so strong it kept shorting out.

Pam isn't the only one who has been involved in an international power struggle. Several years ago, Abby Miller, a tourist staying in a Lisbon hotel, managed to kill the electric power to half of the hotel by plugging her hairdryer into a shaving outlet. It was a hair-raising experience for both Abby and the management.

Here's the problem. While most of Europe now has a common currency, they've yet to develop a common current. The United States operates appliances on a 110 voltage. So does Canada, Mexico and most of Latin America. Most of Europe uses a 210 voltage. So cross the pond and you may be shocked -- literally -- when you plug your 110-voltage hairdryer into their outlet. Your dryer will heat up like it's on steroids and then, "pop." It will probably never heat again.

But wait, there's more. Before you travel overseas, you can purchase dual-voltage appliances. My old roommate did this before a trip to London. When she turned on the 220 setting, her hairdryer barely reached room temperature. So she flipped it to the 110 setting and within seconds it was smoking. And then it died. You see England uses a 210 voltage, which makes both 110 and the 220 obsolete.

Travelers can also purchase voltage converters for their electric appliances. But even those aren't created equal. Hair dryers and curling irons require a 1,600-watt converter. Razors need a 50-watt converter. And computers and battery chargers may all be different as well.

Even if you do have the right electricity converter, you may not have the right outlet plug. The five-plug adapter set you purchase at your local travel store works in most countries. But not all. Some towns in Europe have their own quirky way of doing things.

Mary Boland discovered this in Florence, Italy, after spending $30 on converters and adapter plugs she thought would cover all bases. None of them fit the outlets in her room in Florence.

There are ways to avoid the power struggle.

• Buy locally. If you're just planning to visit England, consider buying necessary appliances when you arrive. Oftentimes it's cheaper than buying the converters at home, and it saves space and weight in your luggage.

• Ask the desk clerk. Hotels often carry a supply of irons, shavers and hairdryers for guests to borrow. It saves them from having an unwitting guest turn off the electricity for the whole hotel.

• Go natural. Avoid taking electrical appliances and let your natural beauty show. If that makes you feel self-conscious, just avoid mirrors. You'll forget all about it very quickly. And pretty soon you'll just enjoy your "current" situation.

Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at

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