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There is also a $HOME/bin/ directory. It is usually used for your own scripts, but could be used for your own apps. Otherwise, it doesn't matter. Put them in a directory you create in your $HOME/ directory and add that directory to your $PATH/ variable.
Better not. $PATH has length limit, also every path will be searched after you or script invoke most commands, so less is better. Create a directory for applications in your $HOME for example $HOME/apps and extract these archives there within apllication name as directory. Then create symlink to starting application in your $HOME/bin.
I'm not sure if I'll have a lot of "portable" apps but I've only started using Linux and I already have a few of them. And they are meant to be "portable". For example Virtual Volumes View or XnViewMP.
I install such apps into /opt - including xnviewmp.
Most well-behaved programs don't need write access to the folder they are installed in, and will create what they need in the user's home folder (I have ~/.xnviewmp). Only in rare cases (for example: Wunderlist) do you have to install the code into your home folder.