21 Important Things To Remember Before Heading To The Bar (For Your First Legal Drink!) When You Turn 21 Years Old

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things to know before turning 21 years old first legal drink
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Turning 21 is a major milestone, so we count down the days, weeks, months and even years until our birthday comes. Being able to legally buy yourself a drink means no one can argue that you're a fully fledged adult.

They say it's a major life change, but they don't tell you that, unless you have a really awesome friend group that happens to all turn 21 before you do, you'll find yourself googling the best bars in town, reading tips and tricks online and asking everyone you know what you should do on that day. Because how do you know how to go out if you've never actually done it?  

It's a big day, and you want it to be perfect. 


RELATED: Drinking Alcohol Makes You Lose Weight, Says Best Study Ever


You'll remember this one ... or your friends will remember it ... or Snapchat will remember it for you!

No matter how you choose to celebrate, these 21 things to know before turning 21 and heading to the bar for your first legal drink will help you start out your 21st birthday on the right foot. Where it goes from there is all up to you! So pour yourself a drink, and get reading!


1. Drink water. Hydration is key.

You need water to live, especially when you drink alcohol. You’ll thank yourself for any water you drink throughout the night because you’ll feel a lot better the next morning. I actually make sure I drink water consistently at least 2 days before I go out, and that helps me a lot in the long run. 

2. Don't feel pressured to keep up — everyone has different tolerances for alcohol.

This means you may be drunk after a drink or two while a friend may polish off 9 shots without feeling anything. (I’m that friend.) If you have a higher tolerance, you should still space drinks out a bit. I can verify that 6 shots in 20 minutes will mess you up no matter how high your tolerance is

3. Wear comfy shoes!

You’ll thank me later. Stilettos or heels look awesome, but you’ll be suffering after a long night of partying, and people don’t really care about your feet when you’re out tearing it up on the dance floor. 

4. You don't HAVE to drink just because you're turning 21 years old, you know.

There are plenty of ways to have fun besides alcohol, and not all of them involve going too crazy. It’s easy to throw together a game night with friends or a wine night if you want to keep it low key. Another good option if you don’t want to get too wild is to dress up and just go to a nice local cocktail or wine bar! Some Starbucks locations even serve wine now, so don’t think you have to go clubbing to enjoy your 21st


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5. Going out is always more expensive than you anticipate (especially when you're drinking).

A wine night in can be cheaper, and a lot more personal, less rowdy or safer, if that’s a concern of yours. I’ve had a lot of successes with "Arts and Alcohol" nights with fun music, good company and crafts. People do tend to buy you drinks, but, if you want to do something low key, that isn't bad either!

6. Go out in with a group of friends you trust — and STAY with that group until your head hits the pillow.

On my 21st, I had a pretty large group of coworkers and school friends, and, at times, these two groups would split up, which is totally fine! But you don’t want to get separated from your group, especially if it’s the first time you’re going out. It’s honestly just too easy to get lost. So use the buddy system, and stay safe!

7. Take the next day off of work (trust me).

I didn’t and regretted it. Even if you aren’t that hungover, which I luckily wasn't, having that day off will make you feel a little better about taking it easy. Or you could go out for mimosas the next morning, am I right?

8. Start early (but only if you know you can last through the night). 

Grabbing a drink or two with dinner definitely isn’t a bad idea, and it’ll make it a little easier for the rest of your group to keep up with you!

9. You absolutely can say "NO" to drinks and dances!

I felt bad saying no to people on my 21st who wanted to buy me drinks or dance with me, but you aren’t obligated to say yes. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you owe them a thing. If taking drinks from strangers creeps you out, or if you’re already tipsy and want to wait, say no! If you don’t want to dance, say no! It’s your birthday, after all. 

10. Don’t take a purse with you.

Taking a purse is a bad idea. It’s more of a hassle than it’s worth, and it’s just annoying to have to deal with. Wristlets with slots for your card are comfortable, as long as you remember them! Give your stuff (don't forget your ID!) to a friend, put it in your pockets or stuff it in your bra — whatever works! 

11. Plan for what you’re comfortable with.

If you just want to hang out at one place, let your guests know! If you’d prefer to roam the town, that’s an option too, so just stick to your guns, and don’t let people take over planning unless you want them to!

12. Wear something great that you feel confident in.

If you want to feel sassy in something lowcut with a pair of slammin’ jeans, go for it. If you prefer to dress more conservatively, GO FOR IT. This is your night, and the last thing you want is to be questioning the way you look, or feeling weird about your clothes. Wear what you feel good in, and slay your style.

13. Eat something!

If you’re pregaming, add some food to your schedule! Get some good snacks, or grab McDonald’s on the way, anything to get some food in your system. Snacks are always a fun idea throughout the night too, but having something before you start will help you feel a lot better than you would otherwise.


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14. Remember deodorant (or throw some in someone’s purse, just in case).

If you are going out on the town, you’ll thank me for this reminder. Put some on the back of your neck, the backs of your knees, the pit of your arm, etc. and it’ll last a lot longer than normal!

15. Don’t wear jewelry you care about. You'll lose it. 

It’s easy to lose things when you’re drunk, obviously, but especially when you’re running around, going to new places and dancing in tight spaces with strangers. And, if you’re going to more than one place, it’s hard to track important items down. 

16. Bring a group of people you trust, through and through. 

I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that people I trusted were at my birthday because I felt so much safer than I would’ve otherwise. It’s tough feeling out of it, and, if you don’t have a squad to back you up, it can be overwhelming. 

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17. Before and after photos can be really funny! But maybe keep them to yourself until morning.

Especially if you’re the one taking them. Give your phone away for safekeeping if you’re worried you’ll drunk call your ex, but, if not, document the night! It’ll be funny to look back on the night. (Especially if you don’t remember it.)

18. Look out for your future self.

Set out your pajamas on your bed and put a Gatorade, water, crackers and Tylenol on your nightstand. Keep a garbage can with a bag in it there, too. That way, should you need it (hopefully you won't!), you don’t have to go too far to find it. 


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19. Keep an eye out for creepy guys, since it needs to be said. 

If someone is creeping you out and not leaving you alone, tell a bartender or a bouncer. 9/10 times they can help, or they’ll scare away the person creeping you out. They want you to have a good night too, and most bars tend to lean towards a no-creeps policy, especially if there is a female bartender. If they won’t help, stick to the buddy system or even grab a friendly stranger to pretend to be a friend. 

20. Don’t drive, and don’t let another drunk person drive.

Take an uber or lyft, text a sober friend, ask someone to be the designated driver, call your mom or even call that kid in your astronomy class you’ve only talked to twice. Chances are they'll be laughing when they pick you up and happy to keep you from driving. Buy them some fries or something. Just don’t drive. 

21. Be smart.

Most importantly, as my mom would say, “Be smart with your stupid.” Celebrate your special day to the max the way you’re comfortable and make sure you’re smart about it!


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Beth El Fattal is a writer who covers astrology, pop culture and relationships topics.