Are you expecting a package, and wondering why it’s taking so long?

Perhaps you’ve taken a look at tracking you and you’ve noticed something that doesn’t make sense. The package seemed to be well on its way, then suddenly a new scan showed it was somewhere even further away from where its supposed to be delivered!

This can be really confusing, and make you wonder if the package is going to be delivered late.

Fortunately, couriers rarely deliver packages using a direct route to your door, and this behavior is normal. This holds true for all major couriers – USPS, UPS, Fedex, and DHL included.

But why does this happen, and will it lead to delays with delivery?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know.

1. Sorting Centers

Many people believe that packages travel from post office to post office, until they finally arrive to the one that will deliver it to you.

This isn’t the case.

Instead, packages largely travel between various sorting centers, where they are organized, categorized, and separated for most efficient delivery through the courier’s network.

While there are over 31,000 post offices throughout the United States, there are only 22 USPS distribution centers – not even one per every two states.

Therefore, packages may sometimes have to travel further away to arrive at a distribution where they can be properly scanned and sorted, to continue on their way towards your door or mailbox.

Most of the time, this is the cause of packages going further away – they are simply being sent to the next sorting or distribution center.

The Importance Of Sorting Centers

You may be wondering, wouldn’t it be more efficient to keep packages going closer to its location at all times?

Well, unfortunately not.

Think about this – a semi truck full of packages is on its way from point A to point B. Other than gasoline, it doesn’t really matter much if the truck is completely full, or is carrying only one package. There are still a fixed amount of costs attached to this.

Therefore, it makes the most amount of sense to fill the truck up as much as you possibly can, lowering the total cost per package.

The problem is, you can’t just stop and move packages to a different truck, if all these packages are going somewhere different.

Instead, all packages are sent to sorting centers, whose sole job is to organize them and ensure that packages that are going to the same place all remain together. This not only keeps everything as cheap as possible, but saves further time as well.

It is far more efficient to collect a bunch of packages, and go out of your way to somewhere that can sort them – even if it means more miles traveled.

2. Human Error

It’s important to know that most of the sorting is done by cameras and machinery. Considering that UPS, Fedex and USPS all ship millions of packages each day, this is the only way to get it done.

Of course, humans are involved in the process as well, which introduces more opportunities for errors.

After the packages and parcels are sorted and separated into bins, these bins are moved around by people.

If packages fall out, they may be mistakenly placed into the wrong bin, which ends up with the package going to the wrong location.

The machinery may be partly to blame as well – it scans and sorts thousands of packages per hour. While the overwhelming majority will be sorted correctly, occasionally errors are made.

This is why it’s so important for shippers to have clear tracking labels – it not only helps humans, but the machinery too!

3. Weather

Couriers use extremely advanced systems to ensure their packages take the most efficient route possible. When you consider the scale they operate on, even small errors can lead to monumentally higher costs.

These routes are also built and adapted in real time.

If your package was scheduled to go through an area that isn’t able to move things at full capacity due to something like severe weather, it may be rerouted elsewhere.

Unfortunately, this can also lead to it appearing like its going backwards – moving further away from its destination address.

Sadly, there is nothing that can really be done about this, and sudden weather issues can indeed cause packages to experience delays.

4. Incorrect Destination Address

Delivery Man With Packages In Van

As you’d might expect, a lot of issues can arise if the wrong shipping address ends up on the label.

This could either be due to you entering it incorrectly at checkout, or the shipper misprinting it on the shipping label.

Smudged or dirty labels can also make it more difficult for the cameras to accurately scan them.

It should be noted however that USPS in particular is extremely efficient at being able to correctly identify where mail is supposed to be going. Even if things aren’t done perfectly, they are still usually able to get it where it needs to go.

Typically, when packages appear to be going the wrong direction, it is most often due to an incorrect zip code.

In fact, up until the package reaches your local post office for final delivery, the only piece of the address that is actually looked at is the zip code!

The zip code sets the routes and gives the sorting centers everything they need to know in order to properly sort your packages.

Therefore, it is extremely important that the address is correct in order to avoid potential delays.

5. Packages Are Stuck Together

On the rare occasion, packages can get stuck together.

This is most commonly due to sticky materials on the outside of the packages.

Of course, you might imagine what happens next.

One package gets stuck to another, and both end up going to the same place.

It isn’t until further human intervention that the mistake is realized, and the package ends up back on track to where its supposed to be.

Will This Lead To Shipping Delays?

Unfortunately, shipping delays are inevitable in many circumstances, particularly if there was a legitimate mistake during the transport of your package.

It should be noted however that UPS, Fedex, DHL and USPS are almost always able to abide by their expected delivery date, even if it appears like there’s no way it can possibly be delivered in time.

If shipping speed is a priority to you, we recommend purchasing a shipping option that has guaranteed delivery dates.

For example, Priority Mail Express has a guaranteed delivery date, where as regular Priority Mail, or First Class Mail do not.

If you use a shipping option with a guaranteed delivery date, you will usually be able to request a refund on the postage / shipping price for the item.

If you ordered the item online, you should contact the company you ordered from – they will be able to request a refund on your behalf, and should refund the shipping price to you.


If your package appears to be going further away, don’t worry! This is normal behavior, and it’s likely that it will still arrive on time.

There are many different reasons that packages may go to cities that are further away.

With this article, I hope to shed some light on the situation.

Have any questions? Feel free to ask them using the comment form below!

Thank you for reading,

– James McAllister

About the author 

James McAllister

James is the owner of He started his first blog at the age of 11, and has since gone on to start several successful businesses. In total, these businesses have sold hundreds of thousands of units and have touched millions of lives. Here on, he shares his knowledge that brought him to where he is today. If you want to connect with James, follow him on your favorite social networks!

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