What is a Route: Understanding the Basics and Beyond

keyKey Takeaways:
  • A route is a particular path or direction between two or more locations. It can also be defined as a set of visits an on-field executive makes to deliver goods/services or collect returns.
  • Route planning refers to the process of determining the most suitable route to visit a set of stops.
  • Methods for planning routes are manual, through navigation apps like Google Maps or Waze, and using route planner software.

When you hear the word ‘route,’ do you think of a random path or a defined course for travel?

If you’re curious to know more, you’re in the right place.

This blog will unravel the concept of “what does route mean”—what they truly signify and why they matter, particularly in the shipping industry. 

We’ll explore associated terms and walk you through the world of routes. But before we dive in, let’s embark on this journey of understanding together.

What Does Route Mean?

A route refers to a specific path or direction between locations.

In the shipping industry, a route can be defined as a set of visits made by on-field executives to deliver goods or collect returns.

A route can have multiple destinations lying along a road, expressway, or different lanes of a locality or neighborhood. To illustrate this concept, let’s consider the example of a courier service operating in a suburban area. The delivery route for such a service may include the following types of addresses:

  • Start point: A distribution center where the courier company sorts parcels and assigns them to specific delivery paths.
  • Stop 1: Residential areas, where customers typically expect packages at the beginning of the day before they leave for work.
  • Stop 2: Commercial areas, including offices, retail stores, or service centers that usually expect deliveries during their opening hours.
  • Stop 3: Schools and institutions that order goods in bulk and need priority service.
  • Stop 4: End-of-day returns to the distribution center, where undelivered or return orders are processed.

These stops collectively form a route that a courier delivery executive must traverse daily. While the sequence of stops may vary, the types of stops generally remain the same.

What is a Direct Route?

A direct route is the shortest path between two or more destinations, minimizing the travel distance. However, opting for the shortest route doesn’t always ensure efficiency. Various factors come into play, such as road types, traffic conditions, and intersections.

Consider a route from a distribution center to several residential addresses. The direct route may appear straightforward, running in a straight line and seeming like the fastest option. Yet, this route might pass through heavily congested urban areas with peak-hour traffic, making it the slowest choice.

In response, the delivery manager may opt for an alternative route. While it may be longer in terms of distance, it avoids the traffic-prone city center. This alternative path may traverse less congested suburban roads or highways, despite adding extra travel distance and time.

By taking the longer but more efficient path, the courier service company ensures on-time deliveries, minimizes frequent stops and starts, reduces wear and tear on vehicles, and improves overall mileage. This consideration of alternative routes leads to the concept of route planning.

What is Route Planning?

Route planning is the strategic process of determining the most suitable route to visit a set of stops efficiently and effectively. It takes into account multiple factors, such as:

  • Distance: Minimizing the total travel distance to save time and fuel costs.
  • Traffic Conditions: Avoiding congested routes or adapting to real-time traffic updates.
  • Weather Conditions: Adapting routes to weather-related challenges, like road closures or adverse conditions.
  • Drivers’ Availability: Ensuring routes align with driver schedules and working hours.
  • Preferred Time Windows: Meeting customer expectations by scheduling deliveries within specified time frames.

By considering these elements, route planning aims to create optimized routes that enhance operational efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer satisfaction.

What is Route Optimization?

Route optimization is the process of creating the most efficient and cost-effective way to cover a series of stops.  It helps create feasible delivery sequences and utilize resources effectively. It aims to expedite shipping and cut down on fuel costs while ensuring timely deliveries. It typically involves optimizing routes for tasks, such as deliveries, pickups, or field service appointments.

It considers several real-time factors, such as traffic situations, weather conditions, and changes in stop priorities. It goes beyond conventional route planning and helps maximize fleet efficiency and adaptability, making it appropriate for delivery, pick-up, or service businesses. 

Methods for Route Planning and Optimization

Until the advent of technology, route planning was a completely manual process. However, it is no longer the scenario. You can now plan routes using basic navigation apps or even next-gen route planner software. 

Here is an in-depth explanation of each approach, along with associated limitations or advantages.

1. Manual 

Manual route planning, as the name indicates, is the process of manually determining the best possible route(s) for vehicles to reach their designated destinations. A dispatch or delivery manager considers factors, including service time windows, drivers’ availability, or drop-off locations, to plan routes without any technology or software.

Here are the reasons why:

  • Planning routes manually for large fleets and complex delivery networks requires considering traffic situations, service time windows, and vehicle capacities. It may become overwhelming for a human planner.
  • As the routing factors grow more complex, human planners may end up making errors while planning routes. It can result in inefficient resource utilization, increased fuel consumption, and longer delivery times. 
  • Planning routes manually may fail to take into account road closures, accidents, or changes in delivery priorities. The inability to adapt to these real-time disruptions renders it static and inefficient. 

2. Through navigation apps (Google Maps/Apple Maps/Waze)

Navigation apps like Google Maps or Waze can help plan routes. However, they are mostly suitable only when your driver needs to travel from one point to another. However, as the number of stops increases, they pose limitations.

Here are a few:

  • Google Maps or Waze doesn’t consider user-specific constraints or preferences while creating optimal routes. For example, they may fail to take into account service time windows, vehicle restrictions, priority stops, drivers’ working hours, or vehicle capacity while planning routes. 
  • Google Maps or Waze depends on a reliable internet connection to provide up-to-date information. Therefore, users may struggle to use them in poor network coverage areas and make dynamic route adjustments based on real-time traffic data.
  • These apps use basic algorithms to identify optimal routes and may limit your ability to sequence hundreds or thousands of stops. 

In short, Google Maps, Waze, or Apple Maps can be fit for personal use but may not fulfill route optimization requirements. 

3. Through route planner software

Routing software comes in handy when you need to plan routes for hundreds of stops quickly and efficiently. An advanced route planner can help achieve timely deliveries, minimize drivers’ idle time, and maximize operational efficiency. 

Here are the benefits route planner software offers:

  • Fuel and time efficiency: A route planner helps find the best route to cover a given list of locations, reducing fuel consumption and operational costs.
  • Escalated productivity: Efficient allocation of stops and drivers using route planner software helps maximize the utilization of resources.
  • Improved customer service: A route planner allows for dynamic route adjustments based on traffic, weather conditions, or changes in priorities, offering an accurate Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) to customers.
  • Scalability and adaptability: Route planners leverage advanced algorithms to create optimal routes in complex scenarios involving a large number of vehicles and delivery points.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Routing software helps analyze delivery operations and evaluate their performance, providing insights into metrics such as delivery times, resource usage, and drivers’ performance.

Environmental impact: Routing software helps reduce fuel consumption and associated carbon or greenhouse gas emissions, supporting eco-friendly practices.

Stay on Top of Your Drivers’ Performance with Reports & Analytics.

10 Features to Look for in Route Planning Software

The choice of route planning software depends on your specific business needs. However, your ultimate goal should be eliminating the hassle of planning your routes and driving efficiency in delivery operations. 

So, below are the features that can help you make an informed choice and achieve the goal of delivery route optimization. 

1. Route optimization

The first and foremost feature is route optimization. It should allow you to create optimal routes based on distance, traffic, and service time windows. Different route optimization software like Upper leverages an advanced algorithm to help determine the most efficient routes. 

They also help consider real-time traffic updates, changes in priorities, and the addition or removal of stops on the go. This functionality will help you reduce travel time while minimizing vehicle wear/tear and fuel costs, contributing to significant savings. 

2. Live tracking

Your routing software should offer live tracking to provide real-time updates on your delivery vehicle’s location and movement. Tracking your fleet on the go can help you act promptly in emergencies, spot delays, adjust routes dynamically, and ensure uninterrupted deliveries. Upper, for instance, provides robust live tracking capabilities to keep you in control.

3. Integration capabilities

The routing software should seamlessly integrate with your existing systems. It should enable the exchange of data with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, GPS devices, or fleet management solutions. This integration helps eliminate manual data entry, enhance accuracy, and improve overall efficiency. 

4. Customization and adaptability

Your software must be adaptable and customizable to address your specific or unique business needs. It should enable you to modify settings, define rules, and accommodate unique constraints. This flexibility ensures the software aligns with your operational requirements, whether you have specific delivery constraints, vehicle types, or other industry-specific considerations. Upper is designed with flexibility in mind, allowing you to tailor it to your unique requirements.

5. Mobile access

Mobile accessibility implies that the route planner software must have a mobile-friendly version or come with a mobile application designed specifically for it. It is helpful for drivers who can view routes, get real-time updates, and interact with the central management easily through their mobiles. This feature helps strengthen collaboration between the dispatch manager and field staff, enhancing drivers’ productivity.

6. User-friendly interface

A user-friendly interface is crucial to make planning and administration faster and easier. Hence, your software should feature a user-friendly interface. Simple controls coupled with clear visualization of routes will help reduce the time spent learning how to use the software and improve its utility. When your team can use the software efficiently, it will increase productivity and minimize errors. 

7. Analytics & reporting

Delivery route analytics provides valuable information about your fleet’s performance and day-to-day delivery operations. So, your software should feature analytics features. It will enable you to evaluate key performance indicators, including travel times, total successful/missed deliveries per driver, and distance traveled to cover designated stops. 

These comprehensive reports can help you identify problem areas, create a strategy to address them and optimize your delivery operations. 

8. Proof of Delivery

Electronic proof of delivery helps control fake delivery attempts and prevent chances of confusion or conflicts. So, your routing software should allow your drivers to capture photos or collect customers’ signatures as electronic proof of delivery for future reference. It will also help boost each driver’s accountability and reduce the need for manual paperwork for delivery validation. 

9. Service level agreement compliance

Certain companies may look for deliveries in specific periods in line with their operating hours as per service level agreements. Your routing software should facilitate configuring service time windows and plan deliveries accordingly. It will help you stay compliant with SLA terms and elevate the customer’s experience through deliveries in their preferred time slots. 

10. Bulk address upload

Adding delivery addresses manually can be time-consuming and inefficient. Your routing software must allow you to directly import your delivery addresses from Excel or CSV sheets, or your eCommerce or CRM platforms. It will make your hours of manual entry work a matter of minutes and expedite route optimization. 

What If You Find All These Listed Features in One Software? Outstanding, Right?

Upper is the top route optimization software equipped with all the above-listed features to make your routing game easier than ever. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!


The phrase ‘en route’ means “on the way”. If something is en route, it means it is in the process of traveling from one location to another.

For instance, saying ‘the parcel is en route to its destination’ implies that the shipment is on the way to its destination.

A route is a designated path or course you take to reach a destination. It is often predefined and provides directions and guidance to complete the journey. Defining and planning routes is essential as it helps ensure on-time deliveries.

A route description is a written or verbal explanation that provides detailed information about a specific route or path to a destination. It comprises details regarding landmarks, turns, intersections, waypoints, travel mode-specific information, and any applicable cautionary notes.

Route planning and execution may be faced with managing stringent time windows for deliveries or services, dealing with unforeseen weather conditions, last-minute changes in priorities, and coordinating routes with drivers’ schedules and working hours.

Keeping your data about routes up-to-date and incorporating feedback to adapt to changes can help improve route planning and execution. Besides, you can also adopt route planning software like Upper which leverages advanced algorithms to plan the most efficient routes for your delivery or field service operations.

There are some good real-world examples of businesses that have benefitted from successful route optimization. Chef Nicole Miami, a Florida-based meal delivery service, managed to save 10 hours weekly with optimized routes, accommodate 46% more orders, and achieve 46% increased productivity. Parkwood Products Ltd, a New Zealand-based door manufacturer, achieved 2 times more deliveries with automated route planning.

Optime Your Routes and Redefine Delivery Operations

When it comes to deliveries, a “route” doesn’t stay confined to the traditional definition of the path between point A and point B. It rather goes beyond that to form the backbone of a meticulous delivery plan and effective navigation via road, sea, or air. 

In other words, routes are not just paths but are structured courses designed for efficiency, safety, and optimal resource utilization. Understanding the nitty-gritty of the term “route” is key to mastering the art of planning routes to reduce fuel consumption, enhance customer satisfaction, and stay competitive. Efficient route planning empowers you to navigate the complexities of delivery operations and maximize productivity. 

To learn more about how it can help, sign up for a and transform your shipping efficiency. 

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.