I never travel during peak summer months or heavy holiday season. I hate waiting in line for anything, and I hate crowds so a July vacation is not for me. But many places are so popular that peak season is pretty much year round. Macedonia is definitely not one of those places. And traveling there off season is a real joy. It’s everything vacations should be like and never are. Here are some of the best reasons why you should visit Macedonia during the off season.
Macedonia is definitely an affordable vacation all year round. It’s a well-situated Balkan country that has not yet started exploiting the tourism industry. So staying there off season is outrageously cheap. You can get a lake view suite in Ohrid or have an entire hostel floor to yourself for $30 a night. For Ohrid, that’s saving you at least half the cost of peak pricing. Tour guides and taxis are sometimes more flexible on price since they’re not getting as much business.
There’s nothing worse than cramming into a tiny city like Ohrid that’s supposed to quaint with several hundred thousand people. I think a small lakeside town is meant to be experienced when it’s quiet. So seeing it when everyone in Europe descends on the city to enjoy the beaches strips it of part of its beauty. Don’t get me wrong… I would love to take a boat to the nearby caves and take a dip in the lake when it’s 75 degrees out. But it’s definitely worth seeing when no one else bothers to visit. It’s unbelievably romantic and you feel like some restaurants are open just for you.
The personal experience
I don’t normally do group tours because I hate being carted around like sheep. But mostly for the sake of transportation, we booked a tour of the natural sights surrounding Skopje, and it was a lovely experience. We were in a small bus with two ladies from Sweden, an older guy from Budapest, and a young guy from Kuwait along with our Macedonian guide. We rode the cable car up to the Millennium Cross together and sat and had coffee at Lake Matka and talked about life and travel and our impressions of Macedonia. And it was delightful.
The same tour in June would probably have at least 30 people, none of whom would be interested in getting to know each other, mostly because… “they’re taking forever to get back on the goddamn bus! Don’t they know we were supposed to meet 10 minutes ago!? Also can they get the fuck out of my picture?”
I don’t love talking about “the authenticity” of a place, because as visitors, nothing will ever be 100% authentic. But the good thing about traveling to Macedonia off season is that you can see more of what the locals really enjoy. Because if it’s not frequented by locals, it’s probably completely empty. In fact, some places just close for the season. This gives you a better idea of what life is like in a city, and allows you to get a feel for what living there would really be like.
Though Macedonian people seem to be incredibly sweet and kind-hearted, the welcome brigade we had in March must have been at least in part influenced by the fact that they have less people to welcome. You get a lot better service when someone isn’t juggling 50 of you all at once. People are more flexible and accommodating. And it was an awesome experience because of it.
And we did our best to try to make a good impression on them too, so they’ll stay welcoming of Americans.