Business travellers cart a fair amount of electronic kit with them these days. Between laptops, BlackBerrys, iPhones, cellphones, PDAs, tablets and even portable projectors and printers, there's a lot to plug in and charge up.
But how do you know if your plug will fit — or if it's even safe — to charge up your expensive devices?
There are two things you'll need to think about when figuring out whether you can plug your laptop, hairdryer or smartphone into an overseas power point: plug shape and voltage.
The shape of the plug is the most obvious difference. Just about everywhere in the world uses one of four plugs:
This is the standard Australian plug and is also used in NZ, China, Fiji and a few other countries. It comes with two flat pins slanted away from each other, and sometimes with a third grounding pin underneath.
The "Europlug" is the most common plug in the world, with two round prongs. Sometimes the plastic surrounding it will appear in a rounder version with grounding pins on the outer side, and the shape of the power point may vary, but the prongs are always the same.
This type is seen mainly in the US, Canada, Mexico, Central America Japan, Taiwan and some Pacific countries with strong US influences such as the Philippines.
It comes either as two parallel flat prongs or with a third round prong for grounding underneath the other two.
UK Square Pin
The three pin UK plug is also found in Ireland, Singapore, and many former Commonwealth and Middle Eastern countries. (Our expert tip: beware of stepping on these plugs, which naturally fall to the ground with the prongs facing upwards. You're unlikely to draw blood, but it hurts like anything!)
There are exceptions to the rule (Italy and Israel being the most notable countries that have their own special plugs), but almost all of the world uses these four plugs.
Of course, some countries use multiple types of plug, which can get confusing. China uses all four in various places across the country, and often has "universal" power points, with larger, oddly shaped holes to fit any type of plug.
Your hotel might have universal power points
An increasing number of upmarket and business hotels fit out the wall above each room's desk (or sometimes build into the desk itself) a universal socket with holes of the right shape and layout to accommodate the four common plugs detailed above.
Unless you're a regular guest at the hotel or can confirm with 100% certainly that our room will have a universal power point, we suggest you bring your own adaptor to be on the safe side. This also means you'll be able to plug in your laptop an any office, meeting room or airport lounge rather than only being able to recharge back at the hotel each night.
Instead of buying adaptors for each country we suggest a single universal plug converter that will work with any of the four most common power points – and it'll also accept any of those plugs. Just about every international airport will sell you one of these, as will most travel stores and many airlines' inflight duty-free service.
Some -- including this latest model from WorldConnect -- even have USB ports so you can charge your smartphone or tablet using the supplied USB cable rather than carrying each device's own AC adaptor.
Top tip: bring your own power board
When travelling with two or more pieces of kit that need power (and, let's face it, it's increasingly unusual to travel with fewer than that), the trick is to bring your own power board.
Take a lightweight power board from home with enough points for each of your devices, plug your kit into that -- then plug the power board into the universal plug and into the wall.
There's an added bonus to having your own power board, too: you won't have to ferret around under the desk or behind the bed when you want to charge a different device.
Voltage is the invisible difference — invisible, that is, until that hairdryer you bought in Japan catches fire because it's made for 120V and you've plugged it into 240V of power.
Voltage has two ranges: 100-127V and 220-240V, and it will be at either 50 or 60Hz frequency. (The frequency isn't the problem it once was; just about every piece of equipment you're likely to have will take 50 or 60Hz without any problems.)
Most of the world, including Australia, uses the 220-240V range. (We'll call it 240V because anything that wants 240 will take 220 or 230 and vice versa.)
Japan, the US, Canada, Mexico, Central American countries, plus Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Suriname use the 100-127V range. (Again, we'll call it 120, for the same reason.)
Some countries use a mixture of both for historical reasons, 120V, including areas of Brazil, Suriname, Vietnam, Indonesia, Suriname, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Libya and Madagascar. Many Pacific Islands also have a legacy of both voltages, depending on whether their electricity installations included US, Japanese or European involvement.
Fortunately, most modern portable electronic equipment — laptops, cellphones, tablets, cameras, portable printers, and so on — can handle both 120V and 240V.
To double-check your device works, look for the small print on the specifications (which can usually be found on the power brick) for an input range of "100-240V 50-60Hz".
If it does, then you don't need to worry about voltage for your trip — just make sure your plug will fit.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.