Plotting a route from Point A to Point B is typically a simple enough task for most people, but multiple-stop routes are another story. Mapping a route with multiple stops can get complicated very quickly. The reason? The number of variables to consider increases exponentially as you add more stops to your route, including mileage, fuel consumption, one-way streets, construction detours, and more.
Many people, including delivery drivers, field service workers, and road-trippers, are faced with the task of planning out multi-stop routes. By employing a few smart tips and tricks, this daunting job can become a natural, stressless task that takes very little of your precious time. For now, robots have not yet replaced humans so we’re going to try and help you out!
In this article, we’ll discuss five dos and don’ts that will make your multi-stop planning a cinch. Ready? Let’s get right into it!
Table of Contents
#1 – Don’t Use Pen and Paper Map
The temptation may be there to go ‘old school’ when you’re planning a route. After all, a paper map has been the ‘gold standard’ of route planning for many centuries. And there’s still a place for the reliable ‘pen and paper’ method of planning a trip – and that’s when you only have one destination to consider.
When it comes to planning many steps or times, however, the pen and paper method quickly becomes a problem. There are many ways it can go wrong, and the chances of making an error (or many) that will cost you time and money also skyrocket. This is because the more stops you add to your route, the more choices and variables you have to take into consideration. The number of options quickly increases, and your trusty pen and paper map method of planning becomes impossible.
The only time it makes sense to plan multi-stop routes with pen and paper is if you’re on a leisurely road trip and love the idea of detours, backtracking, and filling your gas tank more often than necessary.
#2 – Don’t Use Excel
While MS Excel is a great spreadsheet tool, it’s probably not going to solve your map routing woes. This is because Excel still relies on manual inputs from you to work its magic.
As with planning by pen and paper, manually planning your multiple stops using Excel can become a complex task with a high chance of error. Effectively, you’re putting yourself in charge of creating a sophisticated algorithm that has to take into account many variables. In addition to the likelihood that it will not be ideal, developing an algorithm is also a time-consuming task to give instructions.
There is one exception where using Excel can make sense. This is when you pair it with a free planning software solution. In these cases, the software has been designed to do all the computational work. All you have to do is fill in the locations of your stops in Excel and upload the file to the routing software and voila, you’ve got an optimized route!
#3 – Do Examine Your Needs
In psychology, it is well established that for your wellbeing, you need to have your needs met. The same is true in this field. Before you dive into planning your multi-stop route(s), make sure you examine your needs.
If you’re running a delivery business or a large percentage of your business is based on field service work, it’s essential to identify your top priorities. For example, is the speed with which your delivery route is completed the number one consideration, or is it more critical that you deliver to preferred customers first? Perhaps you want to create a competitive advantage by offering the lowest prices. Thus fuel and vehicle costs need to be a top priority.
Knowing the needs of your business is integral to plan your multi-stop route properly. Here are some key things to consider when determining your business’s top needs in this regard:
- Does your business offer ‘urgent’ or ‘preferred’ delivery or field service options to customers? If so, how will this variable be taken into account when planning routes to many destinations?
- Are you in an industry where cutting bottom-line costs is integral to establishing a competitive advantage? If so, fuel consumption and vehicle wear and tear are vital variables to account for when planning.
- Is the customer service key to competing in your industry? If so, the speed with which your delivery driver(s) complete their routes may impact customer satisfaction.
- Are there unique factors do you need to consider? If so, the tools that you use require that you can create the route order, directions, navigation, and details in an efficient manner.
Another important note when it comes to examining your needs – take time to consider your current needs as well as your anticipated future needs. For example, if you’re running a small delivery business or field service company, you may be able to get by with a free routing planner for now, but as you experience growth, you’ll likely need to switch to a paid planner. If you’re anticipating growth, it’s essential to take into consideration your future needs. Changing route planning software amid rapid growth could be challenging and time-consuming.
#4 – Do Use a Free Route Planner If You Have Seven or Less Stops a Per Day
Skip the pen and paper map. Skip the manual Excel entries. It’s 2020, after all. Today, there is no shortage of free route planning apps and software solutions that will serve your delivery driver up the best route in no time at all. The catch? Free planning tools tend to have several limitations that make them unsuitable for more complex address planning and planning for many drivers/vehicles.
Here are some of the critical limitations of free route planners you’ll need to keep in mind:
- Limit on the Number of Stops. Many have a limit on the number of stops per optimization. For example, the free Mapquest route planner limits the number of stops to 26, while SpeedyRoute will only optimize up to 20. This means if you require more, you’ll need an app with more addresses.
- Some free route planners limit the number of routes you can optimize in 24 hours. If your business relies on planning many routes each day, you’ll want to make sure you have a route planner that’s going to allow an unlimited number of route optimizations. This means, if you require more routes, then you’ll require an app or delivery service that can support your needs.
- Optimization for one vehicle only. Many free planners will only optimize routes for one vehicle, making them unsuitable for any business that anticipates growing their delivery or field service fleet. One exception amongst the free options is SpeedyRoute. This online app allows optimization routes for up to four vehicles.
- No delivery time windows. Today, customers have high expectations when it comes to home deliveries and field service work. They want up-to-date information on when their delivery driver or technician will be arriving – no one wants to sit around all day waiting for the cable guy to show up! Unfortunately, with free planning services, you won’t be able to let your customers know when their delivery driver or technician is expected to arrive.
- Lack of customer support – Free software comes with a price, though it may not be immediately apparent when you sign up for the freeware. Customer support or lack thereof is only something that we come to appreciate when things go wrong. With free software, you can expect very little or no customer support. Comparably, paid routing software almost always comes with a Service Level Agreement that provides a certain level of assurance.
While the user limitations of free software need to be taken into account, they can also serve the needs of many independent technicians and start-up businesses without issue.
As a rule of thumb, if your route planning involves less than seven places and only one vehicle, free software is likely to meet your needs to schedule, process the progress, and achieve your goals. Here are a few of the best free planners you can find on the app store:
- Google Maps – Pretty much everyone has used Google
Maps on their cell phone, tablet, desktop computer, or another device to plan a route, whether it be a long-distance trip to visit the in-laws or a trip across town to a new restaurant. Google Maps is an app available on Android or iOs, and users can access it from the website or app. And there’s a reason for Google Maps’ popularity – it’s extremely good at finding the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. Unfortunately, as you add more stops, Google Maps’ efficiency is compromised. You can rely on it for routes with seven or fewer stops, but even in these cases, you’ll need to review the route options manually to determine which is the most efficient.
- Speedy Route – This easy-to-use planning app is free for route optimization of 10 or fewer addresses. Additionally, you can only plan three routes per 24-hour period with the free version. If your route planning needs grow beyond the limits of the free software, Speedy Route offers paid subscriptions on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The monthly subscription is currently $50.
- Waze – This app has become very popular in recent years amongst commuters and other drivers. A unique feature of this app is that it crowdsources real-time information (traffic data, location of roadblocks, etc.) from its vast membership of drivers. If you’re planning routes in urban areas, where traffic jams and delays are a regular occurrence, the Waze app may be your best bet.
For a full review of Free Planners,
Check out: Best Free Route Planner with Unlimited Stops in 2020
#5 – Do Use a Paid Route Planner If You Have Eight or More Stops a Day or Multiple Drivers
You may initially hesitate at the idea of paying for route optimization and planning software solution. After all, as noted above, there are freeware options available, and Google Maps is always ready to lend a hand. But if you refer back to tip #3, you may also realize that your business’s needs exceed the capabilities of a free route planner.
Paid tools offer many essential features for businesses that employ delivery drivers, field service technicians, etc. Here are some of the key features provided by many paid planners:
- Many or unlimited stops – Depending on the plan level, paid programs can include the ability to add as many stops to your routes as you need.
- Many or unlimited routes – Many tools also offer the ability to plan multiple routes each day, which is critical if you are managing a large number of delivery drivers.
- Many or unlimited drivers/vehicles – Again, with paid planning apps or software, you’ll typically be able to plan routes for an entire fleet of drivers/technicians.
- High-Quality Customer Support – When things go wrong, you want to know you’ll have access to customer support and a Service Level Agreement that you can lean on if needed. Not all paid planners provide excellent customer support, but the reputable ones typically offer trustworthy customer service and support.
- Advanced Features – Paid route planners tend to have bells and whistles that can be of great value to your business. For example, many also have built-in features such as electronic signature capture (so you can ensure your delivery drivers are completing all stops on their route) and delivery time estimates.
Interested in seeing the best paid route planning software?
Check out: Best Route Planner App in 2020
What is the best way to route multiple locations on Google Maps?
The best way to route many locations on Google Maps is to use the web version of the tool. The web, or cloud-based, tool offers more accessible options to input addresses, as well as to rearrange them.
Is there a way to map out multiple locations?
The best way to map out multiple locations is to use a route planning application. There are many free options. However, for more advanced users, it is recommended to use a pain application.
As a rule of thumb, if you are planning routes or driving directions with more than eight stops or for more than one driver, your best way forward is with a paid app or service. Similarly, if you’re just starting a business that relies on deliveries or fieldwork (e.g., lawn maintenance, painting, etc.), and expects that your planning needs will multiply, it may be worth skipping the free route planner and investing in a paid app that will carry you through your growth spurts. We hope this article gives you some insights on how to map your multi-stop routes. Please let us know if we’ve missed anything, as we’re always looking to serve you, our readers! Until then, happy planning!