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What if Mother Nature derails your holiday travel plans – as it did for so many people recently after Hurricane Sandy and during the Christmas blizzard that crippled the East Coast two years ago?

Storms can keep you from leaving town or, worse, leave travelers stranded out of town for days when airports are closed and planes aren’t where they are scheduled to be. That’s not even talking about closed highways.

Hurricane Sandy disrupted travel around the world for hundreds of thousands of people scheduled to fly to, or through, the East Coast.

We forget that when weather disrupts our plans, it has a ripple effect – it can take days to get planes and crews to where they are supposed to be.

Any way we can de-stress this experience by planning ahead is a good thing, especially when we are already stressed by the holidays, kids are part of the equation, you can’t reach the airline, and when you are faced with days of expensive hotels because you can’t get home.

That’s why travel agents and travel insurance agents are my new BFFs. “Your time is so valuable ... why would you not want a travel advocate on your side?” asks Amber Blecker, recognized by USA Today as one of the country’s top cruise agents. That’s especially true in the case of an emergency or a big storm that grounds your flights. Let your travel agent handle logistics and get you rebooked. (In one case after a storm, Blecker got hotel rooms not only for her clients but for others they met aboard ship when their flights home were canceled.)

Let your travel insurance company mitigate your woes. Some plans may cover children 17 and under free. Compare plans at www.insuremytrip.com or www.quotewright.com.

Certainly travel insurance can save the day, if a family emergency forces you to cancel a trip for which you’ve already paid. If someone gets sick or injured (when the hotshot skier lands in the ER), according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, a comprehensive travel insurance policy will help reimburse medical expenses, locate and arrange appropriate medical care, plus arrange and pay for needed medical transportation, including private air ambulance evacuation, if needed.

Travel insurance also protects many things that are not covered by credit cards, homeowner policies and health care plans, including coverage for those 30 million bags that are mishandled each year, says Jim Grace, president of InsureMyTrip.com.

There are even policies that allow you to “cancel for any reason,” though you typically must buy them within 10 to 30 days of making your first trip payment, Grace noted.

Travel insurance also can help in the case of a storm that brings travel to a standstill. Figure travel insurance will cost 4 percent to 8 percent of your trip. That may turn out to be a bargain if weather wrecks your plans.

Also according to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, travel insurance may reimburse for nonrefundable payments if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip because of a weather-related event, and will also reimburse you (up to a set amount) for hotel accommodations, meals and incidentals if your travel is delayed beyond a certain period of time (usually six hours or more).

Check that a travel insurance provider includes a 24-hour hotline for travel-related assistance services. These services can include emergency travel arrangements to help evacuate you from an area that is in the path of a storm or help make alternative plans, such as finding and booking a hotel and rescheduling flights.

It’s bad enough to miss that cruise or resort vacation because you can’t get out of town, but it is even worse when you have to pay for it anyway.