Book review and synopsis for People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, an upbeat and breezy romance about two best friends who travel together each summer.
In the People We Meet on Vacation, Poppy and Alex are best friends from college who have travelled together each summer for the last decade. But two years ago there was a rift in their friendship, and they haven't spoken since.
With Poppy feeling dissatisfied in life despite having her dream job, she reaches back out to Alex. They agree to go on one more trip, and Poppy is determined to finally set things right.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummarySection-by-Section SummarySee the Section-by-Section Summary of People We Meet on VacationQuick Plot Summary
The book opens five summers ago, with Poppy Wright, a travel blogger, on vacation with her best friend Alex Nilson, a high school literature teacher, on Sanibel Island.
In present day, Poppy is now working as travel journalist for an upscale travel magazine, Rest + Relaxation. The last time she'd traveled with Alex was two years ago to Croatia, and there has been a rift in their friendship since then. Her current best friend, Rachel, encourages her to reach out to Alex.
From there, the book jumps back and forth between the past and present. It describes how Poppy and Alex met as freshmen at the University of Chicago, twelve years ago. They ended up carpooling home at the end of the year because they're both from Linfield, Ohio. They're fairly different people -- Poppy had been bullied growing up, while Alex was not, Poppy's family is loud and weird, while Alex was raised by a single father -- but they hit it off. Their sophomore year, they take two classes together and go to Vancouver Island together that summer. While they're there, Poppy decides she wants to find a way to travel for a living, and Alex offers to join her for trips during the summer.
In present day, Poppy texts with Alex to try to re-connect. Alex has plans to go to his younger brother's wedding in Palm Springs, and invites Poppy to join him there. Soon, they reunite in Palm Springs for the first time in two years. Poppy pays for the trip out of pocket, but lets Alex think that her magazine is footing the bill.
As the book flashes back to their past summers, it details their early trips to Nashville, San Francisco, New Orleans, Vail etc. Poppy and Alex slowly realize how much they mean to each other, and how they feel less lonely with one another. They realize they love each other (as friends). Meanwhile, Alex re-connects with Sarah, his college crush, and they start dating. Then, five summers ago on Sanibel Island, Alex had recently been dumped by Sarah. The last day on that trip, Poppy finally realized she was in love with Alex.
In present day, their Palm Springs trip is not going as planned; their studio rental is terrible with malfunctioning air conditioning, and the pull-out chair gives Alex a back spasm. Their plans don't pan out, and they end up with a flat tire. Poppy also finds herself feeling attracted to Alex.
In more flashbacks, four summers ago, Poppy had gotten sick before the trip and Alex had skipped going to Norway and Sweden to take care of her. Poppy found herself thing about how much she loved Alex, but she also realized that he wanted more stability in life, whereas she craved spontaneity and adventure. Then, flashing back to three summers ago, Poppy and Alex had planned a couples trip to Tuscany with Sarah (who Alex had gotten back together with) and Trey (Poppy's new boyfriend). Soon after, Alex and Sarah had broken up again, as did Poppy and Trey.
In present day, with things reaching a fever pitch in the oppressive heat, suddenly it starts to rain, and in the relief of it, they start kissing and have sex. They profess their love for one another, and they attend Alex's brother's wedding together, holding hands. However, before they part, they talk about how Poppy still doesn't know if marriage, kids and stability is what she wants, and Alex tells her she needs to figure it out.
In a flashback to two summers ago in Croatia, they'd finally drunkenly kissed, but Alex had stopped things from going further. Poppy had taken it as a rejection.
In present day, Poppy realizes Alex hadn't really rejected her, he'd simply wanted them to get together in a way that wasn't a drunken whim. Poppy ends up going to therapy for a while to try to figure out what she wants. Finally, she goes back to Linfield to find Alex. She tells him she spent her childhood in Linfield feeling lonely, thinking meeting different people traveling would make her feel less lonely, but it turns out the thing that makes her feel no longer alone is Alex.
In the Epilogue, they are now together and living in New York. Alex has found a teaching job, and Poppy has left her job at the magazine to write a column called People You Meet in New York.
For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.