What I wish I knew when I turned 21

What I Wish I Knew When I First Turned 21

Tips for Turning 21

This past weekend, my younger sister turned 21. It brought me back to when I first turned 21. It was fun going out and celebrating with her. I tried my best to help her have an amazing birthday like I remember my 21st birthday being. All of the feels of being young and first-legal to drink came back to me. 

A lot has changed in the past (almost) three years since I had my 21st birthday. Obviously, I’m a much different person now than I was then. I’m an older, calmer, more mature version of myself. When I turned 21 I was in college, and I was single for a good portion of the time. I went out almost every weekend purely because I could. It was a fun, freeing feeling because it was something new and exciting. At that point in my life, I thought it knew a lot. But, boy, was I wrong. When you’re in college you think you have the world at your fingertips, especially when you’re newly 21. Going out to bars is this shiny, new toy that you want to test out over and over again. Eventually, though, you realize there is a lot more to drinking than half-priced vodka sodas on a Thursday night.   

It may sound odd, but I’ve learned a lot about drinking since I turned 21 almost 3 years ago. I honestly can’t believe how much has changed from then to now. When I first turned 21 I didn’t know what to order at a bar, so I just ordered what my older friends did – vodka with cranberry juice. Now, although, I have my drink order down to a very precise T – a Bombay sapphire martini ordered exactly how I want it. I didn’t think there was so much I could learn in less than three years. 

Looking back, my drinking knowledge and how I ordered drinks at the bar were so naïve. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing the first time I ordered a legal drink at a bar! It took a lot of trial and error before I was able to figure out what kind of drinks I liked and how to order them. 

I don’t think it was a bad thing that I didn’t know what I was doing when I first turned 21. I do wish that there were some things I did know before turning 21 so that going into a bar for the first few times could have been a smoother transition.  

This is what I wish I knew when I first turned 21:

Drinking isn’t about getting drunk

When you’re in college it gets easy to fall into the trap of going to parties and drinking cheap alcohol to get drunk. It’s okay – a lot of us do it. It’s not exactly healthy, but it seems to be part of the college experience. I didn’t go away to college, so I didn’t really go to college parties. When I turned 21, instead, I started going to bars most weekends. I’ll admit, my intentions most of the time, when I went to a bar, was just to drink – it didn’t necessarily matter what I was drinking. It was fun the first few months, but then I started growing up, getting more mature and beginning to appreciate what I was drinking. Suddenly, drinking wasn’t about drinking just to drink anymore – it was more about what I was drinking. When I was first 21 I wish I knew there was so much more to drinking than drinking to get drunk. Now that I’m older, I like drinking to try different flavors of cocktails and wine. My drinking experiences do not center around drinking just to drink anymore, and yours shouldn’t always either. 

The single life and dating get a lot more fun when you’re 21 

I was single for a good portion of the time when I was 21. It was a freeing time when I could go out, meet people, socialize, or just have fun with my girls. I loved doing things like having wine nights with my girlfriends whenever I wanted to because we were all single and had the time to get together. When I did go on dates, it was fun to be able to go out on a real date – one where the guy could buy me a drink or we could share a bottle of wine. Dating before I turned 21 felt so much more juvenile. It felt like dates were simple and not taken as seriously – like going to a school football game together. I finally felt like more of an adult when I was able to ask for the wine list on a date. It made me feel more sophisticated, and it made the dates feel more serious like what twenty-somethings do in the movies.  

Try different drinks to find out what you like

Like I mentioned before, I didn’t know how the heck to order a drink when I was newly 21. It took me a while to learn how to order a drink I actually liked.  When you’re legal to drink step out of your comfort zone. Instead of always ordering a Tito’s with cranberry juice, try another brand of vodka like Svedka. Or, take a chance and try a bartender-crafted martini. One fun thing you can do is tell the bartender some of the flavors you think you’d like and have him create a drink for you. I’ve done this before, and I’m always happy with the outcome. It allows you to try something new while still tasting some flavors you usually like. 

Know your limits 

The most IMPORTANT thing for you to keep in mind when you’re out drinking is knowing your limits.  If can be fun celebrating your 21st and taking free shots, but you have to know when enough is enough. A fun night can quickly turn bad if you drink too much, get sick, or worse. Listen to your body – is your stomach starting to hurt? Is the room spinning a little too much? If you’re starting to feel sick in any way, stop drinking alcoholic beverages ASAP, drink water, and breath. Tell your friends or whoever you’re out with that you’re not feeling well, get an Uber, and go home. 

Know who to trust when drinking 

In the same regard, you should know who to trust when you’re drinking. Obviously, stick to the little kid rule of “don’t trust strangers,” but also know who of your friends you can trust when drinking. Someone who you think you can trust sober may not be the most trustworthy person when she is drunk. You don’t want to go out drinking alone with someone who would leave you by yourself in the bar for long periods of time, who wouldn’t be willing to help you if you got sick, or who wouldn’t respect your decision to stop drinking when you’ve met your limit for the night. It may take some trial and error to figure out which of your friends you feel most comfortable going out to a bar alone with. When you first start drinking go out with a group of friends so you can learn what they’re like when they drink. From there, you can decide which of your friends would be the best,  most trustworthy person to go out one-on-one with. In general, you should surround yourself with people you trust, but it’s even more important for you to do when you drink. 


Being 21 is a really fun time, but there is a lot you’re going to learn about drinking over the next few years. Everything from the drinks you like, the bars you go to, and the people you hangout with is going to change over the next few years. Enjoy being the newbie at the bar as much as you can. Because, before you know it, you’ll be 22 and going out won’t feel as new and thrilling to you.


Speaking of friends, sometimes not all friendships are meant to last forever. Find out how to deal with friendship breakups in this post.

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