with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Know Before You Go: Keep Current – Power on the Road

cell connected to laptop for chargingYou know, when they predicted that technology would make our life easier, and that wireless would free us from the cords and cables and walls, I cheered. Now that modern technology and wireless is here, I have more wires, cords, plugins, cables, and needs for electrical sockets than ever before!

Switching to digital cameras only adds to the number of black snakes and huge black boxes, called “transformers”, I have to haul around. They certainly don’t transform my life. They add to the weight and clutter that haunts my computer and photography moments.

Taking your camera on the road means:

  • More bits, pieces, cords, and adapters to carry.
  • Confusion over which adapter and cord fits which unit.
  • Adapter plug-ins to plug into the various sockets found around the world.
  • Carrying power adapters to convert one electrical type to another.
  • Carrying surge protectors to protect delicate equipment from the different electrical inputs.
  • Pushing luggage weight restrictions and carry-on weight and size restrictions on airlines.

Let’s see if we can untangle some of the doodads we carry with us when we go, before we go.

Electrical Plugs, Converters, Inverters, and Adapters

Not only do you have to worry about the kind of electricity you will encounter on your travels, but the type of plug. While many power converter kits come with a variety of plugs, make sure you have one that works where you are going.

Interchangeable Travel Adapter KitThere are many power plug adapters that can connect your electronic device, power converter or adapter to the wall sockets across the planet. Why are there so many? Well, there is no standard. Every country has their own plug-in socket design, and some countries have more than one. Until we finally bought a couple universal plug adapters, we kept our collection of plug adapters in a small flannel liquor bag, ready to dump out all the plugs and play square peg in round hole to figure out which one will fit.

Universal Travel Adapter PlugA Universal Travel Adapter Plug is small and convenient and great when you will be traveling through various countries. You can connect your automatic power converting transformer easily without pawing through piles of plugin adapters.

And consider investing in gear that will cross electrical borders for your traveling. Examples include the Ionic 1875w, dual voltage Travel Hair Dryer, Panasonic Wet/Dry Compact Travel Razor, and many laptops which will plugin directly to the various electrical plugins. To determine if your electrical items, such as shavers, radios, hair dryers, and laptops, come with built-in manual or auto-switching voltage transformers and regulators, check the unit or manual for specifics. And remember the plugs. It may auto or manual switch electrical current, but you still have to plug the darn thing into the wall.

For those that don’t, power converters come in different shapes, sizes, and strengths, though we recommend you choose a light weight power converter to change the electricity down to what you need for the electrical equipment you travel with.

A power converter, like the Interchangeable Travel Adapter Kit or Universal Voltage Converter for Travel, changes the Universal Voltage Converter for Travel incoming electricity to one compatible with your electrical item. It changes 220 to 110 volts to accommodate a 110v device like a laptop, radio or MP3 player. They also may control the amount of wattage allowed. Choose one with a variable wattage rate, such as low and high, and use the rate appropriate for the electrical item. In other words, Step Down Transformer/Converter for Traveldon’t set it on high for a low wattage cell phone or laptop or low for hair dryers. Hair dryers require high currents while radios and MP3 players require very low currents. If you will be traveling from Europe to the United States, you will need a power converter which steps up the power from 110v to 220v to match your power needs, like the Step Down Transformer/Converter for Travel.

The key to taking electrical items on the road is to limit the number of transformers and converters. While they tend to be small, they are usually heavy and the weight adds up quickly. You don’t need one for every item you carry. Radio Shack and major computer and electronic shops also offer variable power converters with different adapters, allowing you to connect one power converter/transformer to multiple devices. Instead of taking the power cord and adapter for your cell phone, hand held computer (PDA), radio, portable music player, and other devices, just take one and take turns charging them. If you have to have two, then make sure they are small and light. It’s more important to have enough plug adapters!

If you are on long flights and will be taking your laptop, hand held, MP3 player, and cell phone with you and using them, make sure you have the connections you need to charge those with you in your carry-on. During layovers or even on the plane, you can often charge up your device when it is off. At the airport though, you might have to wait in line for the electrical socket nearest your gate. I’ve seen long lines waiting for their turn at the socket. I carry portable power options for my more important electronic devices and avoid the long lines for electricity.

In addition to a converter, consider investing in an inverter. Mobile Power Inverter 90W
A variable power inverter kit turns your 12v cigarette lighter in your vehicle into 110v power outlet. Power Inverters, like the Mobile Power Inverter 90W, Travel Power 75W DC/AC Inverter 120V, and 375W Power Inverter 2 Outlet, which features 2 outlets, can keep your 110v reliant electronics recharged and going, drawing power from the vehicle’s battery.

375W Power Inverter 2 OutletExtended use with the engine not running will drain the battery. Be sure and run the engine every few hours to keep it charged up. We like to charge our rechargables while driving so they are ready to go when we stop. If you fly a lot, consider adding a small lightweight converter with an airline adapter, expanding your sources of electricity to fuel your laptop or other electrical item.

Some PDAs and cell phones will connect via USB to laptops in order to charge themselves through the laptop. This option can shrink down the number of adapters and transformers you need. Think of ways to minimize and get maximum use from what you already have.

pocket surge protector for mobile computers and electronicsIf you are carrying electronically sensitive equipment, consider adding a voltage surge protector, especially for laptops. APC makes a Notebook Surge Protector that not only protects the computer from surges, it features protection for telephone, fax, modem and DSL lines. Many international phone lines have electrical spikes in their lines which can damage sensitive modems.

Some other portable surge protection options include the Mobile Notebook Surge Protector and Pocket Surger Protector, lightweight and portable surge protection for the road.

Portable Power

Rechargable batteries are great but what happens when you are miles away from the nearest plugin and there is no recharge in site? Then bring your own portable power along.

PowerPlus 60 Universal Laptop BatteryThere are several types of portable power units, literally extra rechargable battery sources, for you to use on various electronic and computer equipment. The PowerPlus 60 Universal Laptop Battery is a lightweight (19.6 oz) thin rechargable battery that connects to over 2000 different laptop models, emulating an electrical connection. With a footprint the size of most laptops, it slips easily under or next to your laptop. Lasting about 3-5 hours to power an active laptop, the Universal Laptop Battery uses Lithium Polymer technology, considered superior to Li-Ion and longer lasting.

iBoost Mini Battery Pack for iPodLove your music? Well, you can get many more hours on your iPod with the iBoost Mini Battery Pack for iPod. Simply connect your iPod to the Battery Pack to recharge it. There is also an External iPod Battery that will provide even more playing time for your iPod

Travel kit for Palm Tungsten T/m500/m130/i705The same applies for the Palm Handheld Computer (PDA) with the external battery recharger and the Travel kit for Palm for the Tungsten T, m500, m130, and i705 models, allowing connection with 12 volt via cigarette lighter, AC and USB power drawn from a laptop.

Check your device’s manual for alternative ways to keep the power going.

Label Everything

With all these parts, pieces, adapters, cords, cables, and electronic units, take time to give them a name before you go on the road. Label them with your name and contact information, just in case, but also label all of their attachments for what they attach to.

QL-550 Quick PC Label Printer MakerSmall power adapters sometimes list the name of the manufacturer, but if they don’t and you are like us and have multiple items from one manufacturer, which one goes with which unit? Label them.

The same applies to network cables, phone and modem cables, USB, Firewire, and all the cables you have. Firewire, for instance, has four different end connectors. Which end connects to what and for what? Label them.

You can buy an inexpensive labeling machine online or at major office supply stores or print out labels from your printer identifying which part goes with which piece. Or you can buy label paper and print them out on your printer. If you do, cover the labels with clear tape as the ink will wear off the label with time and usage.

The easier you make it to find which connection goes to which device, the less stress you will have dealing with cables and plugs on the road.

Inventory Check Your Batteries

batteriesMake a full list of everything electronic you are carrying, not only for inventory or customs, but to determine what kind of batteries or charging systems you will need as you travel.

Consider watches, computers, camera flashes, radios, flashlights, all the little things you bring that you forget about. What kinds of batteries do these items require?

Common batteries like AA and C batteries are generally easy to find, though expensive, in most parts of the world. Watch batteries, AAA, lithium, and specialty camera batteries can be very difficult to find.

Standard Batteries - AA Lithium ( 8-Pack )
If you choose to buy batteries while traveling, buy name brands. Brands you are familiar with, like Energizer, Panasonic, or Duracell. But look closely. We bought some batteries in Prague that we were sure were Eveready and upon closer inspection they looked identical to the real ones but the name was Everyready. Knock offs. They might be fine, but you are trusting these to get you through a day of taking precious photographs! Don’t do it.

Rayovac and other battery manufacturers have come up with state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries that can recharge in 15 minutes to 1 hour. We’ve tested these and they seem to do well, except under heavy use of flash in our small digital camera. The fast recharge time keeps us going. The small recharger is lightweight and slips easily into our suitcase.

Put fresh batteries in all your electrical gear just before you leave and make sure you have spares. Don’t waste your precious travel time searching for batteries or film – bring extras and enjoy yourself.


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