Art by Sam Woolley

If you’ve ever been suckered into being a best man, it’s a conversation that’s bound to come up eventually. Your brother/best friend/weird cousin who doesn’t have any close friends outside his World of Warcraft guild has proposed to the love of his life, and, miracle of miracles, she said yes. You nonchalantly inquire what the groom-to-be would like to do for the bachelor party, and the answer comes back: “Vegas.”

Ah, geez. It’s so hot in the summer, and come on, you’re not really a strippers-and-nightclubs kinda guy, right? Maybe we can hire a party bus in our perfectly serviceable home city? Or maybe just take a road trip to Branson instead? I know it hasn’t been the same since Robert Goulet died, but …

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“No,” he replies. “It’s gotta be Vegas.”

This is the situation I find myself in with my brother. With an August wedding approaching, I have inherited the time-honored tradition of herding a bunch of 20 and 30-somethings with vastly different tastes and budgets into the desert with the unspoken acknowledgement that for four days, we will have nonstop “fun” and “craziness.”

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Done properly, a Las Vegas stag party can embody both those things, and still avoid fatalities. Leave planning to the last minute, though, and you’ll find yourself overpaying to stand in lines at every place worth going. Here, now, are a few helpful hints to make sure your trip is The Hangover, and not The Hangover II.

Hotels

First off, figure out what everyone is willing to spend. In my case, I’m a freelance writer dealing with a group that includes several doctors. There is a slight disparity in income going on there. Luckily, there are hotel deals for every budget throughout the year in Vegas, so the big concern when picking a pied-à-terre is location and overall vibe.

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In the case of my brother’s party, my need to have enough leftover money to buy food lost out to the medical professionals’ selfish desire to not frolic with the bedbugs in a Motel 6. After shopping around, we managed to find a nice special in one of the strip’s fancier complexes—one that might not itself house the pool party, club, and restaurants the bachelor is insisting on patronizing, but is at least walking distance away.

Which is something to keep in mind: the strip is just over four miles long, so unless you’re staying at the extreme ends, everything should be a walk or, at most, a short cab ride away. There’s no need to drive yourself crazy finding a hotel that has that hot new sushi place, a beer-pong-oriented bar, and a Skrillex residency.

Gambling

A quick note about casinos: you are in Vegas to show the groom a good time. Nothing will leave you in a worse mood than dropping a month’s rent while trying to figure out if you’re playing craps properly.

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If you get off on being a big shot, great. If Rain Man is your favorite movie and you just need to rock that tan suit at a blackjack table just once in your life, go for it. But even Danny Ocean knew that the house always wins. As a general rule, staying out of the casinos means less frustration and more money to spend on the things that matter, like T-shirts for your brother that read, “The biggest dick urology has ever seen.” (That might be specific to my case, but feel free to use it!)

If you absolutely must get the rush of adrenaline that only handing over money to gigantic corporations can garner, consider sticking to the sports books. You get to be a bit rowdy with your group without getting dirty looks from the roulette guy, and you have people to share in your joy/defeat. Plus, the chairs tend to be uber-comfy, and just one basketball game lasts, like, three hours.

An important caveat I learned the hard way: never bet on games you have an emotional stake in. At another bachelor party years ago, I put a few of my piddling Canadian dollars on game one of a Canadiens-Rangers playoff series, only to watch in quiet despair (casinos frown on crying) as Chris Kreider barreled into my beloved Carey Price, essentially ending the Habs’ playoff run. Bet on something you don’t give a shit about, sit back with a comped appletini, and enjoy the (very slow) emotional rollercoaster.

Da Club

You’ve picked your digs, you’re all checked in, you’ve showered off the dust garnered from trying to find the place where they buried Joe Pesci alive at the end of Casino (spoiler alert!), and you’re ready to hit the clubs and have some $15 tequila shots you will totally not regret tomorrow. Except here’s the thing: proper Vegas clubbing is all about preparing, and if you’re already in the city, you’re too late. Hope you enjoy lines. No, not those lines.

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With new clubs opening all the time, make sure you do some research in advance and get prepared to make a reservation. Just like you tell yourself in the midst of a multi-day MMORPG spree, the internet truly is your friend—do not listen to cab drivers or the sketchy guys on the street promising you guest-list spots. You’ll avoid the crowds at the door and get prepaid bottle service, which, given the insane markups on drinks at these places, is a huge plus.

Experts I’ve talked to recommend booking the club weeks or even months in advance, depending on how big a name the DJ is. Though please note that the EDM bubble is popping; if dropping a load of cash to see Diplo push buttons on his laptop will still really make your trip complete, go for it. Just be aware there are other options out there.

If you do find yourself SOL avoiding lines, you can always try to find another group celebrating impending nuptials, but with different genitals. Try to find a bachelorette party and make nice (but not too nice, at least in the imminent groom’s case), since club doormen are more apt to let in groups that skew female for, uh, some reason.

Entertainment

So you’ve gotten the clubbing out of the way, and the next day, you’re up and, by some miracle, functional. You can hit a pool party, but that’s a bit cliché, and depending on your group, possibly not to everyone’s taste. Luckily, Vegas has no shortage of group activities you might not have access to in your hometown.

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I asked one Vegas-based guy who helps organize bachelor parties for a living about some of the more popular spots that don’t involve being sloshed. “The machine gun range,” was his first thought. “There’s off-road racing here, you can go drive a trophy truck around the track, you can actually jump the truck. Go-karts are pretty popular. Exotic car rentals are popular for some of the high-end stuff. Guys will chip in and buy the bachelor maybe six hours in a Lamborghini or Ferrari or whatever his dream car is.”

If you’re a group of guys with a theatrical bent and thus dying to see the latest resident recording artist or feast for the eyes (as a native of Quebec, I encourage you to check out Cirque du Soleil), you’re advised to either book in advance if you enjoy good seats or grab last-minute tickets in the nosebleeds if you’re on a budget. Speaking of budgets, if you’re truly set on raging but are sick of the clubs, it might be time to leave the Strip. There’s way more to Vegas than just that famous stretch of hotels: downtown is home to some of the funkier, kitschier, older casinos, which can be a bit more relaxed and offer a very different atmosphere from what you find in the more tourist-infested area.

Nudity

There are strip-club people, and then there are the rest of us. Some people seem to navigate nudie bars with an intuitiveness that borders on the creepy: they are suave with strippers and bouncers alike, and probably have intimate knowledge of champagne-room etiquette. If you are not one of these people, but still feel some sense of obligation to go see some flesh (hey, no judgment), you can be prone to getting ripped off. Everywhere you go, you are likely to be offered fantastic deals by gregarious guys in suits, promising cheap cover prices and a free limo ride. These people are not your friends. Their hearts are filled with lies. Don’t believe anyone. Cab drivers especially. So just ferret out the strip-club expert in your party—statistically, there is likely to be at least one—do everything he says (within moral reason), and hope for the best.

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Adam Kovac is a freelance journalist from Montreal, Canada. He’s written for Gawker, USA Today, VICE and others. He finds the term “best man” presumptuous.