For Americans, the simplicity of plug-and-play becomes more complex when we've left America.
Umbilicaled to an electronics lifestyle and lifelines - be it a cell phone, a portable music player, a laptop or a Nintendo GameBoy - we're a society informed and entertained by our battery-operated or AC-adapted toys.
Even when we travel.
Today's gear is more sophisticated and, by and large, less complicated to take along than it was 10 years ago. Transformers, converters and adapters were staples to pack for that trans-wherever flight, except for the hair dryer, which usually worked on dual voltage. Battery chargers now, for example, generally accept voltages from 100 to 240 volts, good most anywhere in the world with the proper plug adapter.
Here's a not-nearly-complete guide to traveling with your favorite things, and suggestions on how to keep them powered in Paris, Maine, or Paris, France.
Cell phones. They're not all created equal, which can be a problem, because of incompatibilities between the American cell-phone system and the Global System for Mobile Communications used almost universally around the world.
Unless you get a triple-band phone that includes international and U.S. frequencies, the best option might be to rent a phone at your destination. Rental phones tend to be basic and come with power accessories that will work in that particular locale.
Alternatively, if you hop around or travel often, consider buying a phone abroad and prepaid SIM cards for local service in specific countries. (A SIM is a removable smart card that contains data about the user that can be moved from phone to phone.)
iPods and the like. The iPod really is an ideal travel companion. It not only stores movies, music and digital photos - it can store and display a couple dozen subway maps, from Berlin to Vancouver (download at www.subwaymaps.com); replay a podcast that describes a destination's delights (check at the iTunes store); or contain a personal walking tour of Europe's capitals (www.ijourneys.
Apple sells a World Travel adapter kit that includes a set of six AC plugs with prongs that fit different electrical outlets around the world. It's designed to work with (and requires) the iPod USB Power Adapter and the white portable power adapter that ships with iBooks and MacBooks.
Batteries. Disposable power cells (double A's, triple A's and the like) are available throughout most of the civilized world, although they're generally more expensive in foreign lands and can be hard to find.
Rechargeable batteries are better for use in high-drain devices, such as digital cameras. The most popular kinds are lithium and NiMH; travel rechargers generally work on 100-240v systems.
Computers, etc. Power plug adapters (there are nine different plugs internationally) are a must; most power adapters will work with international current. For hooking into a phone line, computer travelers will have to deal with adapters as well, since they do not conform with our standard RJ-11 phone jacks.
With our increased reliance on connecting wirelessly, consider a device such as the Linksys Compact Wireless-G Broadband Router WRT54GC (about $50). The router's antenna picks up the "hot spot" signals in airports and hotels, and up to four PCs can be wired to it for sharing. For security, the router can also encode all wireless transmissions using 128-bit WEP encryption.
Battery-operated travel speakers are fun for shared listening to portable CD or MP3 players in a hotel room or on the beachfront patio.
Headphones are a fairly universal device, and noise-canceling headphones eliminate the rumble of airplane engines or high-speed trains. Consider the Sennheiser PXC150 (about $75), a pair of closed, dynamic, supra-aural stereo mini-headphones with Sennheiser's NoiseGard active noise compensation.