Thursday, February 21, 2008

Are you plugged in: A guide to recharging on vacation.



Last evening’s lunar eclipse got me thinking about batteries. Don’t ask me how. At one point I imagined that I was Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous astronomer that lived during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A few minutes later I was Galileo, performing gravity experiments and watching the eclipse from the leaning campanile of Pisa. How those thoughts led to batteries, I really don’t know. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the old world, where gravity had yet to be defined, and our world, a nuclear age filled with blogs, space stations, laptops and cell phones. Whatever it was, I imagined that despite a bit of lower atmospheric light pollution last evening, the lunar eclipse probably looked almost exactly the same as it did 500, 1000 or 10,000 years ago. The one vital difference today however, is that we’re surrounded by infinitely more electronic devices and distractions then we were even just 100 years ago. This becomes very apparent to me every time I head overseas.

I remember a time when two little Energizer batteries, size 357, were enough to power my Nikon F3 SLR camera for an entire year. Add two AA batteries in my Mag-Lite, and I had enough power for months of sightseeing abroad. If my batteries failed then I just bought new ones. They were pretty easy to come by.

Something happened though. As time passed things changed, and now I have two lithium ion batteries for my digital camera that always seem to need recharging. I have a cell phone with another lithium ion battery and I occasionally carry a laptop to send trip notes back home. Some of my colleagues also carry i pods, so it really isn’t a stretch when I say that one traveler can have 4 different items that they need to recharge during the course of a trip. Suddenly, going on vacation to “recharge” takes on a whole new meaning. Are these things necessary? The answer is no. You can enjoy your vacation without them, but as guides, we’ve discovered that they help us to do our jobs better in an increasingly competitive digital world. In some cases it’s just a matter of safety. Please read on if you also find the need to “plug in" during your travels away from home.

I originally planned to write a lengthy dissertation that explained the world’s electrical systems and how they affect your power needs while traveling abroad. Thankfully, someone else did a great job before me. The following link http://www.1ststoptravelstore.com/LNC-plugsgrounded/electrical-travel-guide.htm does a fantastic job of explaining the issues of using your electrical appliance in a foreign country. They also have some nice explanatory pictures. It does not cover regions without electricity however. If you plan to canoe the Coppermine River in Canada and you’re looking for solar panels then this is not the source for you. If you’re looking to go to Switzerland or Australia or to come to the U.S. and charge your camera or run your electric shaver, then this is good stuff.

Here are a few things to remember.
1. Not all countries use the same voltage or outlets as your own country.
2. A converter will change your voltage.
3. An adapter will only change the shape of the plug that fits into the outlet.

Note: You’ll fry your U.S. camera charger if you take it to Switzerland and just put an adapter on it. You also need a converter that will “step down” their higher voltage to meet the lower voltage requirements of your device.

We use the F-200 W Converter by a company called Seven Star. The 200 W stands for 200 watts, which is more than sufficient for most small electrical devices. If you plan to run a hair dryer then you’ll need something juicier like the 1600 watt model. I like the F-200 because it’s relatively small and the two-prong plug fits most of the Western European countries.

You can look at all of the Seven Star products by clicking here. Your local travel shop or Radio Shack should also offer a good supply of travel converters and adaptors. Just tell them where you’re going and what you’d like to recharge.

In fact, they may tell you to leave all that extra stuff at home. You might discover that the best way to “recharge” on vacation is to unplug and enjoy simplicity itself.

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