Travel writer Wanjira Banfield explores the growing trend of cruising solo — which is seeing more women of color taking to the high seas.

Venturing out on your own in any collective environment can sometimes not only seem to be a harrowing endeavor — it may also usher in quite a few strange looks and distant whispers.

It’s the casual lady we see sitting in the third row of a movie theater surrounded by empty seats candidly nibbling on over-saturated buttered popcorn. It’s the man standing by the edge of the bar in a nightclub gazing freely in the distance as he nurses his liquid courage. Perhaps it’s the audacious cruiser gleefully singing karaoke by the pool on a majestic Caribbean cruise ship in the middle of the ocean.

We are all accustomed to embarking on these activities in groups or couples, which in essence makes it seem odd when we decide to go it alone. Even the thought of traveling on your own may sound very foreign to many. But we tend to be trend setters, and this year our new travel trend for 2012 is… cruising solo.

Understandably, solo-cruising can bring a sense of trepidation for the first timer but worry not. The surprises and rewards will surely outweigh the fear. From divorcees to widowers to singles or married couples taking separate trips, there is more than one face to the solo cruiser and many reasons taking the leap is no longer so passé.

So, what are the benefits to cruising solo?

You Run the Program: Everything is on your own terms. There is nothing like planning out your day and not having to discuss it with a group to reach a compromise. It’s a vacation… and should be as much of a breeze as the surrounding winds circling atop the sundeck. You can wake up in the morning… when you want. Jump from activity to activity at your own will or snore as loud as you wish! When you cruise solo, your entire trip is your hassle-free oasis!

Relax, Relate, Release: There are many nooks and crannies on a cruise ship to escape into pure bliss and engulf yourself in your own mecca of relaxation. Bring your iPod and rest out on the upper sun deck and tune out the world. Catch up on some reading while you snack on fresh fruit alongside the pool deck. Or, unwind in the bubbling caresses of the jacuzzis on board. With some of the most innovative and refreshing spas at sea, you may even consider having a rejuvenating facial, body wrap or Thai hot stone massage.

Friendly Haven: You will find the friendliest people on a cruise. Everyone clearly has a common affinity for this kind of travel. If your intention is to meet new friends, you’re in the perfect place. If the thought of public interaction doesn’t break you out in hives, consider participating in shipboard activities and events throughout the day. The wackier the better. Just sign up, show up and show out!

Safe and Sound: There aren’t many other vacation options you can venture off to alone and feel as safe as you will on a cruise. A cruise ship provides layers upon layers of security to ensure the well-being of all guests. Additionally, you have days to learn the ship and the helpful staff will always be more than willing to assist you along the way. Once you dock, shore excursions arranged by the cruise lines are the safest around. You can zip-line through the bountiful greenery of Panama, satiate your perennial passions with an eco-friendly tour in Cozumel, or explore an entire island with the assistance of knowledgeable and respectable local travel guides.

Indulge: Leave your inhibitions at the dock! With an array of meals constantly available at your fingertips, you can eat as much as you want, when you want and as many times throughout the day as you like, without attracting funny looks from anyone. All of your meals are covered in the cost of your voyage, so let go, enjoy and put that diet restriction plan on hold until you get back to shore.

Before enjoying the fantastic solo cruise experience, understanding how to budget for the trip is critical. Most cruise ships are built for double occupancy. However, there are many cruise lines that accommodate the solo cruiser and respect the trend.

To get the best of the exciting advent of cruising solo, your planning should definitely be assisted by a travel professional. Find an experienced travel agent with expertise in cruising and you will be ready to join the biggest travel trend of 2012. Bon Voyage!

Wanjira Banfield writes about travel and entertainment for theGrio. You can find her at  www.wanjirasworld.com and follow her on Twitter @wanjirasworld.