Current Issues

I get pestered regularly with questions about electricity.

Now mind you, I do my best to satisfy all inquiries, but to be perfectly transparent, I know nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, about electricity. Of course, neither did Ben Franklin. That’s why he was out kite-flying in the middle of a lighting storm. KA-ZAM! He should have been a Darwin Award recipient. As it turns out, his face goes on the one-hundred dollar bill. Go figure.

This is not Ben Franklin, nor is there an electrical storm. But it is a fine day to fly a kite over Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate don’t you think?

Hear me on this. I know Westerners like their little gadgets. But gadgets have drawbacks. They are heavy, expensive, and not always travel-friendly. They also use electricity.

Only you can judge how many electric gadgets are essential for a two-week trip in Israel/Palestine. Probably less than you think. But the purpose of this post is help you think about your options.

So to avoid having to address this question one-hundred-ten times, dive with me into a little technical stuff. Ground yourself and read on.

A typical electrical outlet in Jerusalem. Horrifying, no?

It Starts with Spark

Wall outlets in Israel/Palestine are odd. There are three reasons why.

(1) They don’t have two slots, they have three holes. Except for when they have two.

(2) The whole hole idea doesn’t work very well and sometimes the thingy that you plug in, falls out. Unless you tape it up.

(3) The power that comes out of the two or three holes—assuming you can keep your plug from falling out—is very invigorating. Especially when your appliance explodes.

There are many bad thingys going on in this picture. This was me a couple of years ago. Don’t let this be you!

Commentary on these three points:

(1): The three-peg, type H, plug arrived in the Israel/Palestine about the same time as the mullet haircut. Both have thrived. When you see the third hole (the ground wire, supposedly), it will make you think of Munch’s “The Scream.” Or at least it will now (See photo 2 above). Incidentally, a mullet will provoke the same response.

(2): As these outlets age, they get wiggly and lose their ability to grip the pegs. This is especially true if you are using a two prong “Europlug” (or Type C plug) which should work. In extremely wiggly situations I use duct tape to hold things together (“Kentucky Chrome” is our go-to fix).

(3): What leaps out those holes is potent. In the USA, the electrical supply is typically 110 volts AC at 60 Hertz, while in Israel/Palestine, the electrical supply is around 230 volts AC at 50 Hertz. This becomes a problem if your appliance is not suited for the local electrical supply. Under powering and/or over powering an appliance is dangerous, may cause a catastrophic fail, and may burn up electrical equipment.

Coping Strategies

So how does one cope with the three points listed above?

Start here: if you feel you must bring something along that needs to be plugged in, be sure that it can take the voltage leaping out of the socket. How do you know? Look for print somewhere on the appliance itself. Alternatively, look for small selector switch on the side or back of your appliance. It might flip from 110 to 240 (just don’t forget to flip it when you arrive!).

Consider my camera battery charger. Here is a picture of it.

I know it is hard to read but pressed out of the plastic on my charger is this message: “INPUT ENTRE ~ 110V-240V 50/60 Hz.” This is good news, even if you are French.

On the side of the charger itself I can read the phrase “110V-240V 50/60 Hz.” This lets me know that my appliance is comfortable taking either the current and cycle used in the USA or the current and cycle used in Israel/Palestine. Most appliances should have a message like this printed somewhere around the power cord. If it reads “240V,” this is good news for an Israel-bound traveler. If it doesn’t read “240V,” that means it is going to die a horrible death over here and really stink up your room. Leave it at home.

(Note: you can buy a good transformer that “steps down” the voltage from 240 to 110, but these are heavy and can be pricey. They violate my “packing strategically” principles. If you are insistent, however, there are options. See here for one example.).

Ok, so let's assume the appliance that you are considering can take the juice. Now you have just one more hurdle to cross. Chances are, you bought your appliance in the States and it has blades instead of pegs for plug prongs. Blades won’t work here. You must have an adapter to insert your plug into the “Screamer” outlet. Here’s what mine looks like.

Plug adapter. On left, the pegs go into the “Screamer” outlet. On right, your appliance plugs in here.

I bought this one on some back alley in Jerusalem, but you can probably find something similar in a travel store. “Type H” is the true Israeli plug. “Type C” may be easier to find and will work in a pinch. Just remember, the adapter, whatever the type, doesn’t change the electricity, only your ability to physically reach it.

If you are an “Apple person,” they make gizmos that can swap directly out of your power adapter (way cool, but don’t buy it from Apple, buy it from somewhere like this). If you are a PC person, well, I’m just sorry.

A final note. If you are really nervous about bringing a high-end device (like a laptop), you might consider a surge protector. There was a time when I carried one. I don’t anymore. I choose to live dangerously (and to use a company laptop!).

Apple makes “swappable” plugs for their power adapters. Why didn’t you tell me about this sooner? Apple also takes 220 volts, so I’m good to go here.

So what do I carry that requires electrical current? Three things: an iPhone, a camera, and a pencil-thin Macbook Air.

I charge the iPhone through the Macbook. I carry the Macbook because I write regularly and find it difficult to do this on an iPad. I carry a camera because the quality of the one on my phone is not high enough for some applications.

(I do miss my curling iron, but since my barber knows how to do a good mullet, I don’t need it anymore.)

I also carry a small voice recorder for interviews, a headlamp, and a SteriPEN UV water purifier for travel outside of Israel/Palestine. I buy batteries for these.

A Final Charge

If you are thinking about bringing an electrical appliance on your trip, give it a hard look. First, be sure you really need it. Second, be sure it can take 220 volts. Third, be sure you have a way to plug it into the wall outlet.

It is possible that the hotel where you stay will have a 110 V outlet in the bathroom that will accommodate the American taste for electricity. However, if you believe your appliance is essential for life, bring what is needed to plug it into the local grid on local terms. Be self-sustaining.

Some hotels have these in the bathroom. Notice that you can flip the switch to shift from 115 V to 230 V. Notice also the plug (a 2 holer) that can take blades or pegs. Finally, notice the little man getting a shave. Nice, eh? Not every hotel will have these, though.

It is also possible that your hotel will have some appliances that you can borrow like a hairdryer, curling iron, or reciprocating jigsaw. They might even have an adapter. But I wouldn’t count on it. Be self-sustaining.

And don’t blame me for bad advice. Remember, I don’t know anything about electricity.

Shocking stuff. Image from here.