The complexities involved in the shipping of goods globally cannot be understated, as this involves large volumes of goods moving over long distances, encountering various constraints/restrictions, and passing through multiple stakeholders.  

Shippers need the expertise of professional entities like freight forwarders and 3PLs to ensure that goods are transported safely, timeously, and cost-effectively to their destinations worldwide. Among the numerous responsibilities of freight forwarders, one aspect that stands out as particularly critical is route planning.

Every key stakeholder in the industry, including freight forwarders, Beneficial Cargo Owners (BCOs), Third-Party Logistics Providers (3PLs), carriers, warehouses, and consultants involved in international shipments, are involved in the route planning process at some stage.

The art of effective route planning in international shipping is an intricate process that requires a strategic combination of industry knowledge, experience, and advanced technology.

What is route planning and how to make it effective?

Route planning in international shipping is the process of determining the most efficient and cost-effective path that a shipment must take from its origin to its destination involving not only charting the physical course the shipment will take but also a multitude of other factors that could impact the journey.

Effective route planning in international shipping is a delicate balance, requiring the comprehensive consideration of several key factors such as distance, transit time, cost, mode of transport, and not forgetting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG).

A fundamental element in this planning process is the choice of transport mode such as sea, air, rail, or road transport. The type of goods, weight and volume, distance, urgency, and monetary value – all influence the choice of which would be the most appropriate mode of transport for a particular shipment. This decision must also consider potential hazards, such as adverse weather conditions or political instability, which can affect certain modes more than others.

Shipment route planning with Fluent Cargo

Once the mode of transport is decided, the next step is to consider the distance and delivery time. While it might seem like the shortest route is the most efficient, this is not always the case. For instance, a shorter route may be impacted by documentary delays, which might lead to additional charges like demurrage, detention and storage if the cargo reaches the destination before the documentation.

Alternatively, a direct route may be quicker but could involve higher costs, which may not suit some low value cargo movement, or the direct route might not have the best intermodal connectivity for the cargo. Therefore, an effective route plan must strike a balance between distance, time, and cost, carefully considering all factors.

Speaking of customs regulations, it is impossible to overstate the importance of compliance in the world of international shipping. Each country has its own regulations and documentation requirements, and overlooking or misunderstanding these can lead to severe consequences, including delays, fines, and even the seizure of cargo.

Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of international customs laws, local regulations both at POL and POD and efficient handling of paperwork are integral to effective route planning. 

Tools for effective route planning

In this increasingly digitized world, to add an extra layer of efficiency, companies can also harness the power of route planning software and take advantage of advanced software tools to assist in route planning.

Route planning software offers customers a digital interface to streamline the planning process, providing numerous benefits:

  • Significantly enhances the efficiency of route planning

  • Ensures better regulatory compliance

  • Improves overall cost-effectiveness

  • Provides real-time updates on factors affecting the chosen route

  • Allows simulation of different scenarios

  • Calculates the most efficient route based on a range of variables

These tools should be seen as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, the existing expertise and knowledge of seasoned players in the industry. It is the synergy of human experience and digital innovation that leads to the most effective route planning.

The importance of partnering with reliable and experienced service providers cannot be overstated as such a partnership can provide invaluable insights and resources, ensuring a seamless and efficient transport process.

Choosing the right partner, however, involves more than simply looking at their track record. It also requires an understanding of their approach to route planning and their ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.


In conclusion, effective route planning in international shipping requires a fine blend of industry knowledge, strategic thinking, and advanced technology. It requires careful consideration of transport modes, distance, delivery time, customs regulations, and potential hazards, all orchestrated together to create a plan that ensures safe, timely, and cost-effective delivery.

Leveraging digital tools like route planning software from Fluent Cargo can significantly enhance the process of navigating the intricate world of international shipping.

The art of effective route planning, as complex as it may seem, becomes manageable with the right tools, strategies, and partnerships at your disposal.

Written ByMaja Bernstein

Maja is the VP of Industry Relations at Fluent Cargo. She has vast experience in logistics having previously worked at Rock-it Global as a freight forwarder specializing in live events for several years and most recently at Oceanworks as operations manager.