Background Pre-drinking is often defined as an economically-minded set of drinking practices engaged in prior to attending public entertainment areas, such as licensed venues. This paper explores motivations and practical considerations that a sample of teenagers describes as significant to ‘pre-drinking’, despite not attending licensed premises during their most recent risky drinking session. Methods Data were derived from the mixed-methods Young Australians Alcohol Reporting System (YAARS) project. 16 participants aged 16–19 were identified as pre-drinking on their most recent risky drinking session, followed by subsequent alcohol consumption in non-licensed venues. 4 members of this subsample also undertook qualitative interviews. Results These data expand on existing understandings of pre-drinking by emphasising the breadth of motivations and practical considerations understood to shape both pre-drinking practices, and subsequent drinking in other public entertainment areas. These primarily included desires for personal enhancement and experiencing freedom over restriction, the dynamics of accessing alcohol and private space, the necessity of opportunism, and concerns regarding parents and other authority figures. Conclusions Analyses of groups obscured by dominant definitions of what constitutes ‘pre-drinking’ illuminate a broader range of motivations and concerns facing young people who drink. Such findings enhance our understanding of young people's drinking practices, the terminology used to describe them, and the development of relevant policies and interventions.