How is Freight Shipped? Your Ultimate Guide

  1. What’s considered freight?
  2. What are the different types of freight shipping?
  3. How long does freight shipping take?
  4. How much does freight shipping cost?
  5. Benefits of freight shipping
  6. Freight Forwarding and Logistics
  7. Emerging trends and technologies in freight
  8. Takeaways
  9. FAQs

Freight is an integral part of modern commerce. Each year in Australia alone, 163 tonnes of freight is shipped per head of population.

Yet despite how influential freight has become to our existence, the shipping process remains largely invisible to consumers. You order something, it arrives, with little thought to the dots being joined along the way – until something’s late, of course. But, as all business owners know, there’s a lot of dependent variables that need to line up for goods to get from A to B on time.

So, how does freight shipping work? And how can it work to your business’ advantage?

What’s considered freight?

Freight simply refers to goods transported in bulk, often across great distances. This can range from raw materials to manufactured products, and everything in between. 

Freight is distinct from parcel shipping, which typically involves smaller packages. However, almost any item can be considered freight, including large quantities of smaller goods packed together on a pallet.

Some larger items that require freight delivery include furniture, cars, and construction supplies.

What are the different types of freight shipping?

Freight operates through a coordinated network of transportation, including road, rail, maritime, and air. The mode of transport depends on factors such as the nature of goods, destination, cost, and time constraints.

Road Transportation

Road transportation is suitable for short to medium distances, and offers flexibility in routing. There are three on-road shipping methods:

  • Less than Truckload (LTL): Best for smaller shipments, LTL is cost-effective but slower due to additional stops and handling.
  • Partial Truckload: Similar to LTL, but for larger shipments (over 2,000kg), often shared between a few companies, reducing stops.
  • Full Truckload: For bulk shipments (over 7,000kg), offering faster travel and reduced risk of damage.

Rail Transportation

A popular, economical choice for heavy and bulk shipments, rail transportation can efficiently move large goods over long distances. It may also serve as a link between ports and trucks for last-mile delivery.

Boat Transportation

Maritime transportation accounts for the vast majority of global shipping, especially for large volumes – which explains why the 2021 Suez Canal blockage caused such chaos. It’s chosen for its cost-effectiveness in covering intercontinental routes.

Air Transportation

Naturally, planes offer the fastest and most direct method but tend to be more expensive. This option is usually reserved for time-sensitive, high-value, or smaller shipments.

Intermodal Transportation

Intermodal involves multiple modes of transport, which is common for overseas shipping or relaying goods between multiple depots. It can be the most cost-effective way to move freight but may take longer due to having several different dots to join.

Expedited Transportation

For urgent needs, expedited freight shipping ensures rapid delivery using planes and trucks. The trade-off is that it comes at a higher cost.

How long does freight shipping take?

Speed of delivery varies considerably depending on the mode of transportation, the nature of the goods, the distance covered, and other factors like customs clearance.

Broadly speaking, expedited shipping might take only 1-3 days, road transportation 1-5,  while air freight usually takes around 5-10 days. In contrast, boat freight can take closer to 20-45 days.

Road Transportation

Local Shipments. Typically 1-2 days within the same city or nearby regions.

Interstate Shipments. Between 2-5 days depending on the distance and road conditions.

International Shipments. Can take a week or more, especially when customs clearance is involved.

Rail Transportation

Domestic Shipments. Generally 3-7 days, depending on the distance and complexity of the rail network.

International Shipments. Can take anywhere from a week to several weeks, particularly if there are changes in rail gauge or other logistical complexities.

Boat Transportation

Short Sea Shipping. This includes nearby international shipping, usually within a week.

Transcontinental Shipping. Often takes 2-6 weeks, depending on the route, weather conditions, and port efficiency.

Global Shipping. For longer intercontinental journeys, it can take up to a month.

Air Transportation

Domestic Shipments. Typically overnight or within 1-2 days.

International Shipments. Generally between 3-5 days, though expedited services can reduce this time significantly.

Expedited Transportation

Expedited Road Transportation. Usually within 1 day for local and up to 2-3 days for longer distances.

Expedited Rail Transportation. Generally 1-3 days domestically.

Expedited Maritime Transportation. Can be within a few days for short sea shipping and up to a week for longer routes.

Expedited Air Transportation. Often overnight for domestic and 1-3 days for international shipments.

Additional factors influencing shipping time

Customs Clearance. This can add significant time to international shipments, especially if there are delays or complications.

Weather Conditions. Unpredictable weather can lead to delays in all types of shipping.

Type of Goods. Perishable goods might require faster shipping options, whereas non-perishable items may have more flexible timelines.

Carrier Efficiency. The efficiency and reliability of the chosen carrier can significantly impact the shipping time.

How much does freight shipping cost?

Freight shipping costs are influenced by a number of variables, including the distance and complexity of the route, with international shipments potentially incurring added duties and tariffs. Costs may also be affected by surcharges, such as those for fuel and special handling, and by seasonal demand.

Discounts might be available for shipping in bulk or through long-term carrier agreements. The size, weight, and classification of the shipment play a significant role in determining the price, with larger, heavier, and higher-classed items generally costing more.

Choice of transportation also impacts cost, with air usually being the most expensive, while sea and rail tend to be more economical. 

Added costs may also come from opting for extra services like insurance or tracking, and from compliance with international regulations. Market conditions and the supply and demand dynamics can cause further fluctuations in shipping rates.

Need to optimise your shipping costs? Check out our 5 Tips To Increase Your Business Profitability With Better Shipping Management.

Benefits of freight shipping

There are many reasons why freight shipping has become the preferred method for moving large orders across the globe:

  • Cost-effective. Particularly in an era of rising costs, freight shipping via sea, trains, or LTL offers a cost-effective way to transport large quantities of goods, compared to road transportation options.
  • Flexible. Freight shipping offers a number of choices in terms of speed, cost, and shipment size. This provides shippers with the flexibility to find the option or combination of options that fits best for each particular transport.
  • Versatile: Few other methods can rival the ability of freight shipping to handle loads with many pallets, or the heaviest and most odd-sized goods.
  • Reliable: Despite recent disruptions in the supply chain that have affected many shipping methods, freight shipping generally maintains its reliability in moving products on time, boosting on-time delivery, and other distribution metrics. This is often seen in LTL shipments, where carriers consistently group regular customers from the same area together and follow a regular schedule.
  • Sustainable: Freight shipping’s capacity to combine shipments for different companies into ships, rail cars, and trucks maximises each trip’s efficiency and helps in reducing pollution and carbon emissions.

Freight Forwarding and Logistics

Goods cannot reach their destination without the integration of two essential components: Freight Forwarding and Logistics.

Who are Freight Forwarders?

Freight forwarders are specialised businesses that coordinate the international movement of goods. They act as intermediaries between the shipper and various transportation services and handle everything from warehousing and customs clearance to documentation and government regulations, providing uninterrupted door-to-door shipping service.

Their primary services include coordinating cargo movement across countries and managing import and export clearances. 

Freight forwarders are experts in creating tailored solutions for efficient and cost-effective delivery, often working behind the scenes to make the complex process of international shipping appear effortless.

We tend not to hear about them until something goes wrong — it took the recent problems in the worldwide supply chain for many to realise how critical their role is.

What is Logistics Management?

Logistics management is the part of supply chain management that plans, executes, and manages the efficient flow of goods, services, and information between the point of origin and the point of consumption.

Every day, logistics management experts identify strategies to reduce costs and meet customer expectations by tracking inventory through the supply chain, leveraging technology and automation, and ensuring timely and safe shipping.

Emerging trends and technologies in freight

Technological advancements are transforming the way freight is managed and delivered. These innovations are not only enhancing efficiency and transparency but also providing new opportunities for growth and sustainability.

Below, we explore three significant trends and technologies that are reshaping the freight industry.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) involves connecting physical devices to the internet to collect and exchange data. IoT has a myriad of applications in freight, including:

  • Real-Time Tracking. By embedding sensors and GPS devices in containers and vehicles, companies can monitor the exact location and status of shipments in real time. For example, if a shipment is delayed due to traffic or weather conditions, the company can promptly reroute the delivery or notify the customer of the delay.
  • Environmental Monitoring. IoT sensors can measure temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors, ensuring that sensitive goods are transported under optimal conditions.
  • Fleet Management. IoT technology helps in monitoring fuel consumption, vehicle maintenance, driver behaviour, and route optimisation, leading to increased efficiency and reduced operational costs.
  • Predictive Maintenance. Sensors can detect early signs of equipment wear and tear, allowing for timely repairs and reducing the chance of sudden breakdowns.
  • Integration with Other Systems. IoT can be integrated with other technologies such as AI and blockchain to further enhance operations and analysis.


You’ve probably heard this term pop up when the most annoying person you know tries to explain cryptocurrency. But it also has relevance to freight management. Blockchain is a decentralised digital ledger that records transactions across multiple nodes or computers, ensuring security and transparency. Several blockchain innovations are radically transforming the freight industry:
  • Transparent Tracking. With blockchain, every step of the shipping process is recorded on a ledger and can’t be modified. One of the advantages of this system is the increased trust and collaboration due to the fact that customers, shipping companies and all other parties involved access the same immutable information.
  • Smart Contracts. These are self-executing contracts with the terms directly written into code. They automatically execute actions such as payments or document transfers when specific conditions are met, reducing manual processes and errors.
  • Fraud Prevention. Since altering one record would require changing all subsequent records across the entire network, it is almost impossible to manipulate a blockchain, increasing the security of financial transactions.
  • Streamlining Paperwork. Documents such as Bills of Lading or customs declarations can be digitised and secured on the blockchain, expediting processes and minimising bureaucratic delays.

Automation and robotics

Breakthroughs in automation and robotics have found their application in several areas of the freight industry.

Robotic systems are now used for picking, packing, and sorting goods in warehouses. Automated warehousing technology has the potential to streamline delivery while reducing human error and labour costs.

Another notable development is the introduction of self-driving vehicles. From trucks to drones, autonomous vehicles are beginning to transport goods without human intervention, leading to more consistent and efficient deliveries, particularly over long distances.

Automated ports and terminals are also emerging, with some ports employing automated cranes and guided vehicles to load and unload containers. Once again, speed and efficiency are gained, while the risk of accidents is reduced.

Lastly, intelligent routing, involving advanced algorithms, is being used to optimise shipping routes in real-time. By considering various factors like weather, traffic, and fuel costs, this innovation leads to more timely and environmentally-friendly deliveries.

Key takeaways

The freight shipping industry continues to grow and evolve, adopting new technologies and practices to identify more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable ways to operate.

With MachShip’s strategic freight management and insights, you can monitor your entire shipping ecosystem at a glance. Our Delivery Management Software gives you a consolidated view of your carriers with real-time tracking and updates — from warehouse pick-up to fulfilment.

To see how MachShip can help your business grow, book a free demo today.


  1. What is freight? Freight refers to large quantities of goods transported in bulk by truck, train, ship, or aircraft.
  2. What are the different types of freight shipping? Freight shipping methods include Road, Rail, Maritime, and Air Transportation.
  3. How to ship freight? Shipping freight involves careful planning, packaging, selecting the appropriate mode of transportation, complying with regulations, and tracking.
  4. What are the methods of shipping freight? The main methods are Road Transportation, Rail Transportation, Maritime Transportation, and Air Transportation.
  5. What can be shipped via freight? Almost any item, including large quantities of smaller goods on pallets, furniture, cars, construction supplies, and certain outdoor equipment, can be shipped via freight.

Take the first step to easier freight management.

Book a demo now with one of our cloud logistic consultants.